Workforce Development Workshop

Our second workshop of the day, workforce development, kicked off with an overview of the evolution of farm practices and the importance of workforce development on your farms from Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer David Darr. David provided an overview of some of the challenges our members are facing.

David invited President of Dairy Interactive and Language Links Tom Wall to the stage. Tom, otherwise known as the Dairy Coach, has a goal to help dairy producers make their teams more productive and accountable. He explained to the group that he strives to make dairy producers’ jobs easier and less stressful.

Tom opened his session by asking the question, “What’s it like working for you?” He admitted this is a tough question to answer, but said the success of your dairy really depends on the people who work for you.

“Your people make your cows, your people make your dairy,” he said. Tom’s takeway was that you must be present with your team to affect the culture you want on your dairy.

After Tom’s presentation, David moderated a panel of members who discussed how they manage workforce development on their operations.

Opening the panel was Trevor Wayment, from Wayment Dairy in Ogden Utah. Trevor’s family employs three full-time people who they have been able to retain for years — two for more than 10 years and the other for three — despite strong and competitive labor markets.

“We really focus on cow comfort and cow health,” Trevor said. “Like Tom mentioned, that really comes back to those who are working for us.”

Additionally, he explained, they focus on training, including topics such as power takeoff, electrical, cattle handling and silage safety. “You have to create that atmosphere that makes people want to stay,” Trevor said.

The next panelist was Thomas Matthews from Noblehurst Farms in Linwood, N.Y. Thomas’ family employs 12 family members on the dairy and 57 hired employees. He explained that their development and retention efforts include retirement packages, healthcare benefits and creating a sense of community.

Your people make your cows, your people make your dairy,
— Tom Wall, President of Dairy Interactive and Language

Some of this is accomplished by providing staff with enough autonomy and information to make productive decisions, Thomas said. “Trying to connect with people every morning … asking how their families are doing, helps people feel connected,” he explained.

Lee Holtmeier from Linn Willow Creek Dairy in Linn, Kan., was the final panelist. Lee’s dairy currently employs 24 full-time and nine part-time team members. Lee attributed their retention success in part to employee engagement and investing in the future.

“Having meals with employees is a great way to get to know them,” he said.

The workshop closed with a question-and-answer session, where the members, Tom and David discussed a variety of topics, including tracking time, health insurance and many other questions from attendees.