One of the primary concerns within any segment of the ag industry is people. How to find them and how to keep them will come up every time you ask a manager about the future. However, there are some organizations that don’t need as much help when it comes to finding and retaining employees. Some companies are able to consistently find hourly employees while others struggle. Others always seem to be able to find a salesperson when they need them but never find a precision ag specialist. We have studied many of our clients that are very good at recruiting employees and noticed they all have a somewhat consistent set of steps and processes in place to become what we call “destination employers.”
What is a destination employer? A destination employer is an organization perceived by community as a company at the top of its game. This company has worked to build a very positive image or brand in the marketplace — not only to customers, but also to potential employees. The organization is considered the ultimate destination in an employee’s career — a place they want to work and would have no reason to leave. There is reputation in the community that working for “that” company is a great opportunity. Building a strong employer brand is most critical to keep a pipeline of candidates in the more difficult-to-fill positions especially technical roles such as precision ag or high-end application and operations roles.
Becoming A Destination
To give you a good view of tactics that can be used to accomplish this process, we are going to review several of the strategies our clients are using today. These aren’t just ideas — they are tested strategies that are delivering results.
One of the cornerstones in every employer branding strategy is community outreach. While many organizations are active in their local communities, most efforts are focused on building the image for future and current customers — but not to gain the attention of future employees. As a result, the community outreach activities you participate in for employee branding, could be quite different than the activities you are doing today. People won’t apply to your company if they don’t know about the opportunities that exist. With a small amount of dollars and just a little bit of effort spent on promoting the company, filling most roles will become easier to identify with.
Let’s use a precision ag technician as our example role. Where could you find a large population of people that might fill that role? If you are thinking years ahead, you could find that group in school. And if you are building an employer brand with that group, you’ll know who those student/candidates are.
The most successful employer branded companies we have studied really focus on creating a positive image of both the organization and the industry as a whole with their local high schools, Future Farmers of America chapters and other student groups. Most often, these company “ambassadors” are individuals that have come from the area and may have even been part of that same school or organization. They judge competitions, assist with competition preparation, give tours of the organization, assist with teaching a segment of a class, participate in career fairs and promote the company’s scholarships targeted at kids pursuing careers in agriculture.
Sending your young salesperson to give a presentation will more than likely be fun for them, but also give the students someone nearer their own age to relate to. That salesperson, if coached right, will be selling your employer brand and letting all of those students know that down the road working for your company is a great option.
Rick Rupp, ag equipment recruiting consultant and partner with Ag1Source is very familiar with these challenges. “The rural companies and dealerships that are the most successful in recruiting are those that are willing to invest in their people and provide advancement opportunities,” says Rupp. “In many cases, these advancements are increases in responsibility, and not necessarily a full promotion.”
He also added that the most successful recruiting organizations are those who put a significant of amount effort into promoting agriculture throughout the schools, and show them career opportunities — regardless of two-year, four-year or even no advanced degree.
As the prospective employee moves into college, the successful “destination employers” continue looking for opportunities to speak and interact with students at area technical schools and colleges. Internship and summer employment programs are critical to getting noticed, and will give you significantly better insight into future employees and their impression of your organization.
We helped one of our best clients evaluate their scholarship program over this past year and talked with every scholarship recipient for the past seven years. While some of the students have established careers outside the region, 100% of the recipients currently living in the footprint of our client would strongly consider working for the scholarship grantor if the right position came up. In fact, a significant percentage of those outside the current market of the organization would consider returning just to work for the company if the right opportunity opened up. For a mere $1,000 or $2,000 to each student, you can have a lot of carryover goodwill that can land you employees down the road.
Looking For The Tech Savvy
Sometimes you will be faced with filling that unique technical role and will target a specific student about to graduate. Utilizing programs such as zero interest and forgivable student loans not only helps you to land the candidate, but also maintains their employment for a longer period. While the primary role of this tool is to help you land a great employee, the program is also designed as a retention tool. These loans are actual notes between the employer and employee that are written so that a percentage of that loan is forgiven for each year of service the employee is with the organization. In most cases, these loans are 100% forgiven in a three- to five-year period.
This same tool is also used by some organizations to attract more experienced candidates as well. In today’s housing market, many people owe more on their homes that what they are worth. This makes relocation very difficult, if not impossible. This same forgivable loan strategy has been working for organizations that want to enable the employee to sell and buy a home by reducing the impact from being “upsidedown” in their home or give them additional funds for a down payment on a home in the community.
A last concept we are seeing employed more and with great results is to spread the employer branding message to the spouse of a prospective employee. We have one client that always schedules a second face-to-face interview with the candidate and their spouse. This dinner interview is fairly laid back, but good information about where the company is going and where the employee can go with the company is conveyed. This trip is also used as a first opportunity to do some house-hunting in the new area.
With the red carpet rolled out, the spouse is feeling much more involved in the decision and has a much better understanding of the organization and the opportunity. In our experience, we have seen some candidates accept roles because their spouse was so excited for them and told them they had to take it!
Becoming a “destination employer” isn’t going to happen overnight. This is a program that needs to develop over time.
The key to this concept is recognizing the opportunities your employees currently have to put a positive image of your company into the minds of future employees and finding the best way to act on it. Our best destination employer clients need our services less and win in the market because everyone in the organization is constantly recruiting the best people around them to be on their team.