LIC | Employment & Training

Employment & Training

There are many aspects around employment where farm owners or those responsible for hiring staff often feel they don’t get it right time after time. The end result is unhappy owners, disgruntled workmates, and generally a disrupted work place. 

Attracting candidates

It’s not always easy to get the right people applying but you are in complete control of conveying who you are and what you want in an advert, so spend some time thinking about your business and how best to convey it.  If you have a vision and mission statement this will give you an idea of your objectives and perhaps values around how you want to farm and the type of people you want working within your business. Create a detailed description of how you operate and then think about the role required. With all this at hand you should be able generate an advert that will attract the right people. 

Once you start receiving CVs make sure you send a standard email reply stating you have received their application and will be back in touch. This is good practice and good manners.

Short-listing candidates

Establish likely candidates then get busy ringing around. It’s quite telling what you can find out by simply talking to a candidate, some rule themselves out at this stage. Questions like ‘how much money’ and ‘how big is the house’ are not great opening exchanges!  Once you have three or four good candidates contact a couple of referees to help establish if a candidate is suitable for an interview.  Get yourself well prepared with check sheets of questions and use them with referees and candidates.


Once you get to the interview stage, again a standard set of questions and some straight forward calculations  (e.g. around allocating pasture, spreading rates of nitrogen, mixing drenches and sprays) are useful in defining what level of numeracy and literacy you are dealing with, despite what a referee might tell you. It also allows you to compare candidates. Make sure there are at least two of you at the interview stage asking questions, have someone asking questions on grass management and stock management while someone else might focus on goals, this allows you to be more thorough and consider answers better and it simply provides a different perspective to your own. Visiting a prospective employee’s home is also a good strategy, especially at the Manager, Contract milker and Sharemilker level.      

Offer of employment

Once you decide on your preferred candidate you need to provide an offer of employment along with a detailed job description that should outline responsibilities, conditions of employment around housing, salary, time off and any associated perks of the job. Before they start, you must have a signed employment contract and acknowledgement one way or another if the 90 day rule is to be used. If your employee starts before they sign the contract you cannot use the 90 day rule retrospectively.  

A detailed description of your farm system is also useful as it highlights how you want your property run and sets out the values under which you farm. This can be tucked into the employment contract and signed off as well. If your new recruit has all of the above and is ready to go, then the work begins with regard to how successful your human resources strategy will be.

Human Resources

Putting in the effort at the outset is important but the effort required does not stop with getting someone on the ground. Managing Human resources is important. Someone really needs to take ownership of this aspect of the business and devote time and effort in working through well tested processes. DairyNZ’s Quickstart People Productivity kit describes this aspect of managing performance as the performance management cycle:  Plan, observe, feedback, train and coach, review.

You can a call it what you like but its essentially all about setting and implementing plans, monitoring actions and ability to follow that plan,  then assessing and acting on any needs that may be required to fulfil your plan to a satisfactory standard or outcome.


An induction for a new recruit is vitally important in getting staff comfortable with where everything is located, procedures around the shed, farm implements, tools and transport. A perfect time to go over your worksafe policy as well, along with expectations around team meetings and their purpose and frequency. 

Armed with the job description, a detailed system description and having completed an induction and knowing what is expected, your new staff member can confidently play their role in supporting your business. 

Reviewing Performance

Observing employee performance on the job and giving constructive feedback allows for tweaking of performance to suit your particular standards. It’s at this point it will come to light where some targeted training or coaching will help develop your new staff member.
After a suitable period of time a formal review should take place. There are many examples of this available to employers but the nature of a review is to get the staff member to ascertain how they feel they have performed against where the employer believes they are. When this is done correctly it provides great opportunity for discussion and provides pathways for future learning or training requirements, as well as satisfaction as milestones in achievement is met.
I would encourage reviews for all levels of staff right through to 50/50 sharemilkers and equity managers, it’s just good policy around human resources. 

Being a good employer

Other general aspects of being a good employer are to treat all staff with dignity and respect and treat everyone the same without showing undue favouritism, be inclusive around team meetings and get everyone’s opinion. You can’t necessarily run the farm by consensus but getting everyone’s opinion helps everyone to feel valued and important.  Go the extra mile with non cash benefits, dinner at the pub, movies, sleep in on birthdays, these go a long way to developing a devoted and loyal workforce.

Seeking employment

On the other side of the fence, for those looking to find that perfect job - consider how you are presenting yourself. Photos on a CV should not be important but often in reality they are.  Get rid of the dopey hat and singlet when turning up for an interview and make sure your voice message on your mobile is not offensive. Make sure your covering letter to your CV has been spell checked and your grammar is good. Make sure the font is not too small. In reality you are trying to stand out to people most likely of your parents or even grandparents age. Lastly when sending a CV by email make sure your covering letter is specific and not generic with regard any of the other adverts you might have applied for that day.

In summary, on both sides of the employment spectrum there are challenges, getting the right staff and retaining them takes some effort. But getting the ideal job or the ideal employee will be rewarding all-round. 

Mike Bailey
FarmWise Consultant



Site Map