Employment recruiter coaches farm employers to attract and retain talented employees.

The Northeast Regional Dairy Challenge was held near Auburn, NY this year on October 26-28. In this intercollegiate competition, four-person teams from different universities receive information on a real-life dairy farms and then are challenged to develop a comprehensive program, including recommendations for nutrition, reproduction, milking procedures, animal health, housing and financial management, which they then present to a panel of judges. The competition allows dairy science students to apply theory and learning to a real-world dairy, while working as part of a team.

This year’s program included a new feature: expert advice for students looking for jobs on dairies; expert advice for dairy producers looking for top-notch employees; and the opportunity for prospective employers and prospective employees to meet.

Dan Simmons, owner of Continental Search, a professional recruiting company specializing in agricultural industry placements, was the expert brought in to offer the advice.

“Recruiting top employees has never been tougher — and it will get worse,” announced Simmons as he opened his presentations to dairy producers in the observation room at Sunnyside Dairy’s rotary milking center in Scipio Center.

He suggested farms implement a four-step employment system, which he abbreviated ARRR:

Attract          Recruit          Retain          Repeat

However, all of these steps require an understanding of generational differences in work ethic, communication, demonstration of respect, social behavior, career expectations and motivation in order to make hiring techniques more effective.

“You are hunting people,” Simmons challenged, “You need to understand who you are hunting.”

Baby Boomers (Born 1946 to 1964) tend to be workaholics, prefer face-to-face communication, competitive, loyal, resistant to change.

Generation X (Born 1965 – 1980) will work as hard as they have to in order to enjoy life – they insist on a work/life balance, are results oriented, individualistic, and prefer to communicate on a keyboard.

Millennials (Born 1981-2000) want to work, but want to make a difference, were coddled by their Baby Boomer parents who over-emphasized self-esteem, want to be part of a team, want instant feedback, are very social – with “friends” around the world, passionate about values, love to learn new skills, are willing to perform tasks, but need to know why, prefer to comminicate via social media and electronic messaging.


“In the last 30 years nobody went to college to get a job, they want a career. You need to promote the position as a career path,” Simmons insisted.

The job description must be written to let prospective employees know what’s in it for them? What can they earn? What can they learn? What is their place in your world? How will it help them advance?

The job description should also present your farm, its mission and goals in a way that appeals to the prospective employee. Who will they get to work for? Why are you in business that makes them want to be part of the journey? What is the purpose of your business?

Generation Xers are looking for results. What are you exceptional at? What have you accomplished? Gains in milk production? High-quality milk awards? Environmental stewardship recognitions?

Millennials are passionate about values. They are environmentally responsible. They want to work for a cause. They want to work for people they respect that are
doing things they believe in. They are team players – who will be on their team? They love learning – what kind of training will be provided? How will this position offer opportunity to grow and advance?

The job announcement/description is so important that Simmons suggests hiring a labor consultant or human relations manager to help you write it.


Once satisfied that you have a job announcement/ description written to attract excellent candidates, you have to make sure those candidates see it.

Surveys show that most prospective employees are seeking job opportunities by asking their college professors (number one response) and looking on job posting websites (such as AnimalScienceJobs.com and AgCareers.com) and social media. Don’t expect to attract today’s top employees with a print media ad. They aren’t looking there.

Simmons suggests Interviewing all qualified applicants. There is a negative unemployment rate in animal agriculture, he points out. This means there are more jobs than potential employees to fill them. You may not be able to hire your first choice.

The Offer

Employers should be ready to clearly articulate the job responsibilities at the interview and have a detailed written job description prepared. Because potential employees are looking for a career, begin with an on-boarding/training period and include responsibilities that will be added as employees advance. Include additional training and continuing education opportunities that will be available over time.

Simmons suggested paying the prospect to come to work for a day or two before an offer is made/accepted.

The formal offer should be documented and include details of compensation, including salary, benefits, ousing, continuing education dollars, retention pay, incentive bonuses, etc.

Once the offer has been made, Simmons suggests resuming your search if you don’t hear from the applicant in 48 hours. The candidate may need longer in order to explore another offer. Let them know you’re still interested, but that you must continue to look to fill the position in case they don’t accept. Simmons also suggested that you stay in touch with candidates you were unsuccessful hiring by emailing them a couple times a year just to check in. If their employment situation changes, you want them to think of you.


Employment should begin with an on-boarding process to introduce the employee to the farming operation and provide training for the job they were hired to do. millennials want

and expect training. They want to know what they are expected to do, how they are expected to do it, and why they are doing it.

Millennials want regular feedback and an annual job performance review may not be enough. Simmons suggested during the first year of employment, employers provide a review every couple months, with small incremental increases in pay as responsibilities are added.

Invest in technology and seek input from employees to explore and incorporate new technology. Present a problem or challenge you are facing and invite employees to help you solve it.

Offer a bonus to employees who suggest an idea that improves efficiency or saves money.

Provide opportunities to learn more. Simmons suggests this could be as simple as hosting an employee lunch once a month with a guest speaker, such as the veterinarian or feed consultant, addressing a current industry topic.


You will have turnover, Simmons insists. So you should plan for it.

Even if you continue to add responsibility and growth opportunity for an employee, along with pay increases, there may come at time when the pay scale is maxed for that position in your operation. Your employee may find they have nothing left to earn and nothing left to learn.

Manage turnover by being up-front with employees, Simmons suggests. For example, at hiring, let them know that you see three years of growth potential in this job and they will receive a retention bonus each of those years. After that, you will only be able to offer cost of living raises. Agree to an exit plan that offers you enough notice to hire and train a replacement.

Dan Simmons has allowed us to make his e-book, Recruiting in a Multi-Generational Talent Pool, available to NEDPA members in PDF form on our website homepage (www.nedpa.org).

Learn more about Simmons at the following link: www.linkedin.com/in/dansimmons/