Solve Your Labor Problems From Within

Summer is here, which means harvest season is just around the corner. Hopefully you’ll have the crews you need this season. If a misguided effort to “protect American jobs” makes it through Congress, that could be tougher in the future.

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Check out this update regarding a proposed expansion of E-Verify. Eliminating even more willing workers from the farm labor pool before fixing some of the underlying problems that cause agriculture to use undocumented workers in the first place is simply adding insult to an already injurious labor situation for growers.

Even if our industry can help beat back onerous new rules like this one, we’re essentially back to the status quo, which, let’s face it, isn’t all that great. And with campaigning already started for a national election that’s still 18 months away, there’s little indication anyone in Washington is anxious to tackle a politically divisive topic like immigration reform in a meaningful way.

But just because DC isn’t stepping up to solve your labor problems doesn’t mean you can’t build a stable workforce.

At American Fruit Grower® magazine’s FruitGrowerConnectSM  event last fall, we talked about exactly this problem. As you might know, FruitGrowerConnect is an event we host each year that brings some of the nation’s largest and most progressive growers together for a couple of days. They take part in a series of one-on-one meetings with suppliers about their business needs. But they also have an opportunity to network with their peers.

One of the additions to the program last fall was a growers-only roundtable. Just growers talking with other growers about common issues. We covered a lot of challenges in two hours, and labor was number one on the agenda. We asked the question: What are the simplest things a grower can do to attract, retain, and grow the talent needed for the future?

The group brainstormed a number of ideas, and came up with a list to implement in their own operations. The common denominator was a reminder that workers often have at least some choice about where they work. Making them feel like a part of your team rather than just a hired hand can go a long way.

Some of the suggestions included:
Empower employees by gaining their input. Share the “why” behind company processes to gain buy-in from the team.
Celebrate wins. After a great season, have a party. Strive to make the employee feel like he is part of the team, because he is.
Create a worker-friendly environment. Offer “bring your child to work day,” hold employee events, and reinforce positive behavior.
Don’t let a problem employee become an issue with others. If a person needs to be let go, make the tough choice.
• When looking to attract new employees, your current good employees are the best recruiters.
Match a person’s skills to the right position. Put people in a job where they have a reasonable chance of succeeding.
Cross train staff and allow them to help where you need them most.

For another great resource, check out this column from Mario Miranda Sazo for even more tips on working effectively with a Spanish-speaking workforce.

Finding and keeping a good workforce is one of the most important things you do. Create an environment that makes you a preferred employer and you’ll be able to maintain the team you need while bigger issues on immigration hopefully get sorted out.