Have you thought about your staff’s educational needs? That’s not criticism, it is actually typical not to give the topic much consideration. After all, you’ve trained them to perform their daily tasks, what more do they need to learn?

Therein lies the rub. People typically want to continue to learn throughout their lives. Certainly the best and most motivated employees have a hunger to learn.

Paul Johnson, a veterinarian in Climax, Ga., has seen this issue time and again. It prompted him to develop a plan to expand his on-farm employees’ knowledge and responsibility levels.

Here are some of Johnson’s tips as you consider developing a continuous-education program for your employees.

1. Go off the farm. One benefit of off-farm educational opportunities is the friendship and camaraderie that employees establish with their peers from other farms. This can trigger innovative thinking and new ideas as employees have an opportunity to compare notes and exchange ideas.

Off-farm programs also allow for a stronger teaching environment since there are no distractions from daily production operations. The actual class setting may lend a more serious education environment than might be perceived on the farm.

“Off-farm educational programs are my preferred choice,” notes Johnson. “When an employee completes a sequential program and is awarded a completion certificate, the enthusiasm is generally high.” He finds that to be especially true among Hispanic employees.

2. Report back. When the employee returns to the operation, Johnson meets with him/her to discuss what was learned and how to implement some of the new ideas.

“I also have the employee share comments on the seminar with other employees within his or her area of responsibility,” he notes. “Cross training internally is important to daily operations.” It also can pique other employees’ interests in signing up for future educational opportunities.

3. Be open to change. Johnson points to a specific business-management course for veterinarians that he once attended. One item that he carries with him and recalls frequently is this, “If you don’t implement new ideas that you receive from a seminar within seven days, there is a 90 percent probability you will never implement them.”

That’s why it’s so important to select educational programs that fit well with your business and operational goals. It provides the framework needed to evaluate and implement new procedures or ideas. If you do not intend to implement new management strategies then don’t send your employees to the seminar. It’s a waste of time and money. It’s also demoralizing for the employee if you’re not open to suggestions about what he has learned.

4. Be sure to pay. This not only means paying for the class, travel and other related costs, it also means paying the employee’s regular salary while attending the class or seminar. He may not be on the farm, but he’s still working for you.

This also illustrates the value you place on the employee and the educational opportunity, as well as its value to the operation. See that the employee is prepared for the course and outline your expectations for his return.

5. Get the right fit. Talk to your employees to see who might be interested in various topics. Certainly you can send any individual to attend a course that you deem necessary, but you will get the best results from a worker who’s already interested in a particular subject.

Along similar lines, don’t get so focused on everyday pork production that you miss opportunities to advance your workers in other areas that benefit them and your business. 

6. A word about Hispanic workers. Increasingly, there is help available to educate, train and improve communications with Hispanic workers. Universities are creating programs specific to these workers; associations and allied industry are offering assistance as well. Shop around to see what’s available. The programs range from training managers to mid- and entry-level workers.

Ultimately, an operation is only as good as the employees. Embracing a continuing-education program for your employees can elevate them and your business.