Harnessing talent at all levels within a business.

Career growth in the dairy industry

Lee Astridge

Director, No8HR

The definition of success and career growth in the dairy industry is shifting with the realisation that:

1 The traditional ‘own a farm’ carrot is not as easily realisable as it used to be

2 That farm (read business) ownership isn’t what many are aspiring to in any event, and

3 Dairy can offer great careers that are competitive with other industries in terms of status, remuneration and reward without relying on this traditional ‘golden ticket’.

Dairy farming is joining the rest of New Zealand in understanding what a successful career is and means. We’re shifting from an emphasis on the ‘entrepreneurial few’ to the ‘talented many.’ This means a mindset shift to the importance of harnessing this talent at all levels within a business that will lead to a maximising of the potential of the individual, your business and the industry.

There are two very compelling reasons for the dairy industry to focus on careers and maximising talent:

Attracting talent

We’re fighting for talent at all levels and a career in dairying is seen as less ‘portable’ (therefore less attractive) than other career choices – think trades where the perception is it is easier to take your technical skills globally more than you can take the technical skills of NZ pasture-based farming (there’s an argument to be had here, I know, but we’re talking perception). This means we need to work that bit harder to attract people into the industry and to show people in the industry what it is that they are gaining (and can keep gaining) through their career with us.

Increasing productivity

We know that a lot of dairy farming businesses are ‘tapped out’ in terms of the productivity and efficiency they can get from their farm system and land asset, we also know that for most the biggest opportunity sits in increasing the productivity and efficiency of the people performance in our businesses. A quick look at the key people productivity indicator of milk solids produced per worked hour shows the scale of this opportunity (good >35/poor < 20) and shows us how much head-room there is for business improvement in this area.

So if we want productive businesses we need people who are skilled not only at the technical skill of farming, but also in the art of working efficiently and productively, leading others and running smart businesses. And if we can do that we’re building skills and careers that have relevance not only to our industry but also to the wider world of work (cue: link back into making our industry attractive to talent).

I believe our career pitch can be ‘Dairying, the industry where you will learn how to work smart and can grow technical, people and business leadership skills faster than anywhere else’.

There are two things we therefore need to focus on in our dairy careers: Building leadership skills (from which everything else will flow) and building a performance focus in our teams (this is really a subset of building leadership skills, but I’m picking it out as warranting special mention).

So what’s the magic formula for making this happen? A good career in dairying, no matter where your aspirations are, will mean you have access to:

  • A good boss where there is a good match around the skills and talents you want to grow and their ability to role model these skills
  • A business where the skills you want to grow are also the skills the business is prepared to invest in growing (either through the investment of time in internal development or the investment of money for external development)
  • Quality training and coaching for skill development
  • An industry and wider network where you can go for challenge and where you feel comfortable being humbled from time to time
  • Having a mentor or champion who is on your side, keeping you real and supporting you through the inevitable ups and downs.

We’d encourage everyone to ensure that their career is on-track by checking they have access to these things, either via their employer or through their own initiatives.