"Pork Producer Needs Hired Hand”. Would this ad grab your attention? Probably not. A few years ago an ad like that was about all it took to find employees.

Those days are long gone. With the tight labor market and strong economy, competition is fierce for top-quality employees in all industries, including pork production. Just finding job applicants, let alone qualified ones who are willing to stay more than a few months is about like playing the lottery. Employment reports predict a 10-million employee shortfall for the entire United States by 2010.

“Often, there are people out there who would love the job, but the challenge is letting them know the job is available,” says Don Tyler, Profitable Solutions, Clarks Hill, Ind. “The whole idea of aggressive recruiting is fairly new to agriculture.”

Michele Walter agrees. She’s the operation manager and handles employee recruiting for her family's business, Keesecker Agri Business in Washington, Kan. The business employees 20 to 25 people, depending on the season. Along with current high employment rates, she faces direct competition from corporate pork units within the region. “We closely monitor the corporate units to be sure our salary and benefit package is competitive,” says Walter.

Competitive salaries are always near the top of the list. Tyler offers this rundown of typical annual compensation rates for pork production employees. He stresses that these figures are averages and are for a total package. A lot depends on how many people a person supervises, overall responsibilities and years of experience.

General labor (truck drivers, pressure washers): $15,000 to $18,000.

Production assistant (entry level): $18,000 to $22,000.This can go as high as $28,000 with one or two years of experience.

Farrowing manager: $32,000 to $38,000.

Nursery manager: $30,000 to $35,000.

Breeding manager: $32,000 to $38,000.

Finishing manager: $28,000 to $33,000.

Operation manager: $40,000 to $50,000.

Production supervisor: $50,000 to $65,000.

The Keeseckers have a 1,800-sow, farrow-to-finish operation that offers their employees a benefit package and friendly atmosphere that's hard to measure in dollars. It includes paid vacation, paid sick leave, a simple Individual Retirement Account, a Cafeteria 125 plan, which makes cash available for insurance, and free pork products. “If someone refers a job candidate, it’s because of our positive reputation,” says Walter.

“In many instances, companies are competing for the same person,” explains Terry Lebo, senior manager, RSM McGladrey Executive Search Group, Des Moines, Iowa. “Pork producers must find out what the 'hot button' is for an employee and try to address that need in order to attract the prospective worker.”

Hot buttons could be anything from offering hiring bonuses, housing, a retirement program or access to a strong school system.

So where do you find employee prospects? Start by surfing the Internet to find the best sites on which to advertise. This may take awhile, but it is worth the time and effort, especially since many sites provide free employee advertising. Look at both agriculture and non-agriculture sites, such as the National Pork Producers Council, your local chamber of commerce or various colleges.

Once you find Internet sites where you want to advertise, use the space wisely. Whether the ad is paid or unpaid, the key is to make it look professional. When you're writing the ad, Tyler suggests that you:

  • Utilize the space by writing as much as you need, but don’t get carried away.
  • Always review what you’ve typed before you send it off. Make sure there are no typos; and never use all capital letters.
  • Highlight things like the work environment, social atmosphere, environmental stewardship and employee longevity.

Like anything, there are some pros and cons of advertising on the Internet. You'll reach a lot of people, including those that aren’t even remotely qualified. You will likely get responses even before you can get an ad in the newspaper. While the Internet speeds up your turn-around time, you may have to sort through 30 or 40 resumes. “You have to get used to it, this is what business people do all of the time,” notes Tyler. When you get a response, always ask how the person heard about the position and what did the ad say to make him call. By getting this feedback, you will learn where to keep advertising and what to continue to say in your ads.

Don't be surprised if you receive resumès from other countries. With the Internet, someone living in England or South Africa can just as easily respond as someone from the next county. If you do get international responses, Tyler advises scrutinizing them carefully. You need to find out why they want to leave their country. Does the respondent want a job so that you will sponsor his or her green card? Is the country in a state of turmoil or war? The person could be a legitimate candidate looking for an opportunity, but you need to find out. For more information on how to go about this, check with the Immigration and Naturalization Service, USDA or your state social security department and agriculture department.

Walter has advertised on the Internet for a couple of years now. She did hire a farrowing assistant from California through an Internet ad. Plus Walter uses the Internet to conduct much of her initial correspondence with job candidates. She finds that potential candidates are more likely to answer an e-mail than to make a telephone call.

She runs the gamut when it comes to the ad itself. It can be short and simple, especially if there is a cost, or she may advertise an entire page about the operation. “I try to drive home the point that it's a family farm and it involves one owner,” explains Walter. She also tries to change the ads each time, always trying to improve on what works.

In addition to using the Internet, Walter advertises in the large newspapers in surrounding states. Plus, she receives employment reports from various job service agencies. She concentrates efforts on counties with a high unemployment rate, most likely caused by a business closure.

When screening candidates – whether the response came from the Internet or elsewhere, Walter’s first rule is if the resume looks too good to be true, then it probably is.

Another promotional vehicle Tyler suggests is a brochure that explains your operation. With today’s technology, you can create these at home. All it takes is a computer, printer, scanner and high-quality paper.

“Employees will look for profitable operations, nice facilities and an owner who takes care of his or her workers,” says Lebo. A brochure can promote those qualities and others, like environmental stewardship, a friendly work environment, the priority on humane animal care and pride in producing a wholesome food product. Also, emphasizing the different types of employees and their years of service are positive promotional points.

“Our brochure has helped us recruit,” says Walter. “I can stick a note in the brochure and send it off.” She often does that when she receives a resume. “If the person is interested, it gives them a contact. It makes the process more personable,” she adds.

“Third-party credibility is important right now, and employees are your most credible source,” emphasizes Tyler. Encourage them to help recruit. Offer a bonus – maybe $500 – for anyone who finds an employee that you hire. Put some stipulations on it. For example, the new employee must stay six or 12 months before you pay the bonus.

“I've tried using recruiting services in the past, but the fees are high, anywhere from $250 to as high as 25 percent of the person’s first year employment package,” says Walter. “They guarantee that people will stay for one year, but I'd rather pay the person that money than an agency.” So far, this strategy is working for her.

Lebo contends that a recruiter can save companies time and money. “The employee supply will not meet the demand in the next 10 years,” he says. “Finding workers will take a lot of time and attention. A recruiter can sort through the jungle.”

He believes that companies will either need to partner with a recruiting firm or hire a full-time seasoned recruiter to help them attract good employees.

“The main thing is to be flexible, creative, open-minded and hit as many possible avenues as you can,” contends Walter. “When I have an opening, I make a lot of calls. You never know when or where you will find someone.”

How to Stand Out in a Crowd

Whether you are advertising on the Internet, in a newspaper or on a community bulletin board, your ad needs to stand out. Don Tyler, Profitable Solutions, offers these hints to make your ads catch the reader’s eye.

1. Make your ad look unique. Start by reading the Internet or newspaper page where the ad will appear. For instance, a simple classified ad stands out between fancier display ads. Even simple things like adding a border around a classified ad could make a difference. Make sure the ad stands out, but doesn’t segregate itself from others.

2. Use the ad to generate curiosity about the position, not hire the person. Use catchy phrases and strong quotes to make the ad appeal to perspective employees. For example, “Are you looking to get away from office politics?” or “Spend your day working with cuddly baby pigs.” But never advertise what you can’t deliver.

3. Avoid overly simplified ads, such as “Pork Producer Needs Help”.

4. Learn how to screen responses to select the best potential candidates. Review the resumè to see whether the prospect is moving laterally or progressing steadily into higher positions.

Try to determine if the candidate is taking on more responsibilities in his job. You will need to ask specific questions to verify the information on the resume and validate the candidate’s previous jobs and references.

If you’re accustomed to getting responses, then go with what works. Most ads are for entry-level positions, so the ads need to be more creative. These positions open up more readily either from employees getting promoted or going to another job.

5. Make the ad exciting. Ask yourself why would someone want this position; then put that point to work in the ad.