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Ag Matters column: Tips for hiring a new employee on the farm

Finding quality employees that will fit well into you farming operation can be a difficult task. In recent years the strong economy had attracted many people to the larger cities and away from the rural areas. Recently, good jobs have been more difficult to acquire and we seem to have more work force available in the rural areas. So how do you attract and keep quality employees? Following are some suggestions to consider.

To make sure you attract and select the best possible people for your business, and follow up with the necessary training and orientation, you should do some serious thinking about the first 30 days of your relationship with your employees.

It begins with the recruitment and selection process. Before filling any position you must first know that position inside and out. Many employers take this step for granted but it is perhaps the most important.

Analyze the job in detail. Include: physical and mental requirements, licenses and permits, skills and abilities, and personality characteristics. Don't take anything for granted. Finish with a detailed and specific job description. This will help you recruit the right kind of applicant and then offer that applicant a good preview of what the job will entail.

Another common question is, how do you know if an applicant and a position will be compatible? It is usually a good idea to run the applicants through some hurdles, or a series of evaluation tools. In many instances, one hurdle must be "cleared" before an applicant can advance in the selection process. Some examples include: written application, written tests, oral tests, interviews and reference checks.

A hurdle is only as effective as its delivery so be thorough when developing and administering these tools. Applications test and interviews can help evaluate the quantitative aspects of the job and an applicant's knowledge. Practical tests often reveal information about the applicant that isn't necessarily black and white - like common sense, willingness to ask for help, and hands-on ability.

References should be considered cautiously. People that you know and trust are the only references that you can really rely on to give an accurate picture of a potential employee. Even then, people have different perception and personalities.

The last thing about the selection process to remember is that evaluation goes both ways. While the applicant might not get the job if he or she does not perform well, you might not get a great employee if you don't put your best foot forward.

Training employees is absolutely vital in preparing them for success. They will need advice on everything from the informal relationships among co-workers to their specific job responsibilities.

Frequently, it is helpful to instigate a mentor relationship between new employees and existing employees that know the ropes. Utilizing another employee for this purpose allows the new employee to feel like they have a friend within the business they can count on. Likewise, the mentor may feel complemented when trusted with a large responsibility like mentoring a new co-worker.

Performance evaluations should be done on a regular basis for everyone in your business. This is especially true for new employees. We all know that it is best to stop bad habits before they start. Training new employees and reviewing their progress regularly for at least three months may prevent future problems.

When an employee is new, instruction and guidance will most likely be viewed as helpful. After the employee has been on the job for a while, the same instruction or guidance might be viewed as insulting or as criticism. Evaluations should start early and continue throughout the employee's career.

For more information, contact me at the Polk County Extension office in McIntosh or at the Clearwater County Extension office on Wednesdays. Our toll free number is 800-450-2465. If e-mail is your thing, contact me at

Source: Wayne Schoper, Nicollet County Extension Educator.