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Attracting and Retaining Staff in the Australian Pastoral Industry - Part 1

Posted by Bestprac on Jul 15 2009

Summary of Key Findings

By Nandi Herholdt, The Ryder Self Group

Survey Background

During the period, June to November 2007, owners, managers and employees were given the opportunity to participate in the MLA-AWI study on attracting and retaining staff in the Australian pastoral industry. To qualify for the study, enterprises had to employ at least 1 full-time employee in addition to family members.

In total, 842 individuals participated in the study, involving 245 employers and 544 properties. 39 respondents were from the Pastoral Wool Industry representing 37 properties.

Key highlights

1. The Pastoral Wool respondents are significantly older compared to Red Meat respondents and more male dominated

• 56.4% of respondents are over 50
• 89.5% of respondents are male compared to 66.5% in Red Meat

2. Highly engaged workforce in the pastoral livestock industry

• Pastoral employees are committed, satisfied with their job, loyal, proud of working for their farm, have good morale, feel trusted and valued, go the extra mile.
   o Pastoral wool: 69% highly engaged, 27% moderately engaged and 4% highly disengaged.
• Engagement in the pastoral livestock industry is higher than The 2006 Gallup Australian Engagement study which indicated that only 21% of Australian employees are engaged and 18% are actively disengaged.
• For Pastoral Wool respondents, being trusted to get on with the job, receiving recognition and performance feedback are characteristic of a management style that contributes to such high levels of engagement.

3. Sustaining employee engagement is a risk

• According to Professor Drew Dawson from The Centre for Sleep Research there is clear evidence that employees working more than 48 hours per week are at significantly greater risk of poor health, safety and social outcomes. Based on work hours alone, 56% of the Pastoral Wool workforce are thus at risk of burnout and only 8% work in a sustainable way.
   o The risk for burnout is increased by the large proportion of employees (89.2%) who also work 46-52 weeks per year

4. Attractions to the pastoral livestock industry reveal a person who is highly unlikely to work in the mines

• Employees in the pastoral industry (including those that went to mining and returned to the pastoral industry) were attracted to the industry by having family background in the industry, the lifestyle, working with animals, working outdoors and variety in the job.

5. Employees are more likely to leave an employer than the pastoral livestock industry

• Pastoral wool - 9.5% expect to leave the industry in 1 year and 0% in 5 years
• Pastoral wool employers can expect change or to lose up to 35% of their workforce to other employers in the same industry

6. Current recruitment difficulties reported by managers in the survey highlight a significant shortage of skilled workers and concerns with low wages

• Although 87.5% of managers reported losing skilled workers to mining as a major recruitment difficulty, no current employees consider moving to mining in the next 5 years. It is possible that employees that were attracted by the mining industry have all left as those that participated in the survey are less likely to consider mining.

7. Financial security, stability and predictability are key motivators for the dominant personality profiles in the beef industry

• High level of future uncertainty creates stress as they like to plan for their future and be in control.
• Low wages alone was not a key driver of changing employers but rather a lack of future certainty.

8. Properties in Pastoral Wool are currently attracting employees through their reputation, job variety, lifestyle and quality of their operations

9. It can thus be concluded that managers play a key role in attracting and retaining staff

• Popular belief that the mining industry and low salaries in the pastoral industry are the biggest reasons for shortages in skilled staff is not strongly supported by the survey results. The role that management practices play in attracting and retaining staff is a more significant determining factor.

For more information please contact Nandi Herholdt at The Ryder Self Group on 03 9038 8915

Staff Management Skills Crucial

By Catherine Norwood

Labour shortages are estimated to cost the pastoral industry as much as $637 million a year, and the cost of staff turnover, including lost productivity, is estimated at up to $364 million a year in the report 'Attracting and retaining staff in Australia's beef, sheep and wool industries'.

More than 40 per cent of the pastoral industry enterprises are already reporting staff shortages, and the situation could worsen as the labour market tightens.

The skill of owners and managers in dealing with staff will be crucial in addressing this issue for individual enterprises, and an industry-level response is also required.

The average staff vacancy rate for full time farm positions in 2007 (when the research for the report was conducted) was 11 per cent, compared to national average of 2.3 per cent. Employers surveyed reported trouble filling positions in both peak and on-peak periods, and the most difficult positions to fill included station hands and machine operators.

More than 40 per cent of employers surveyed for the report indicated their labour requirements were likely to increase in the next five years. This supports figures from a number of government sources, including the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics suggesting there will be a small increase in agricultural jobs in coming years, as various regions recover from drought.

At the same time the available labour pool is shrinking as a result of an aging population, falling birth rates and a shorter working week. More people are leaving rural communities for urban or coastal areas and competition for the remaining labour is increasing from industries that are growing more strongly than agriculture.

The competition for staff is becoming increasingly fierce and the 'Attracting and retaining staff' report suggests a number of things producers can do to keep staff in their own enterprises. It clearly shows that it's not always about the money. Many employees enjoy their work and simply want to feel more included in the planning and operations.

The report identifies communication and clear leadership as important and farm managers who can recognise their own management style and can adapt to meet the expectations of their employees are likely to have more success in attracting and retaining their staff.

It suggests that many Veteran and Baby Boomer managers (born prior to 1966) generally have a "command and control style of management" while Generation X and Y workers (born from 1966 onwards), generally respond better to a more inclusive management style that provides feedback on their performance.

AWI and MLA have already developed training units which may help develop new skills to manage staff. These training units are all part of the 'Making More From Sheep Manual', launched last year.

The 'Plan for Business' and 'Confident and Capable Producer' units as part of the larger program are the ones that focus on dealing with people, including incorporating feedback from staff in business planning. Given the findings of the report AWI will increase its efforts to promote the issues and help owners and managers to develop relevant skills.

More information: 'Making More From Sheep' can be ordered online or downloaded from the Making More From Sheep website,

Last changed: Feb 16 2012



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