One of the greatest challenges for feed mills in the United States is a shortage of qualified workers, and this problem can be especially large in certain regions of the country. Feed mills are typically looking for qualified managers, supervisors, operators, maintenance personnel, and truck drivers. The search is getting more difficult as the wages in other segments of the economy have significantly increased in the last three months in order to attract people to return back to work. The feed industry is going to be faced with some major challenges in the next several years, including decisions related to either hiring employees or increasing the amount of automation, which will help reduce the workforce required to operate facilities. While automation may address some of the labor shortages, feed mills will now need a different type of skilled workforce. Even the most automated feed mills still need a control room operator that can operate the automation system and unplug a pellet mill. It takes a committed individual who is willing to work in a cold and hot environment, operate a computer, fill micro ingredient bins or beat on ingredients bins that are not flowing. Recruiting new talents will require out of the box thinking and trying to determine what incentives can be used to attract this type of employee. An employee referral program can help to attract more applicants to available positions, but qualifications and expectations of the available position must be clearly communicated. The pay will definitely need to increase, but other incentives such as 4-day work weeks and enhanced company benefits in terms of healthcare and retirement may also be necessary.
Hiring and retaining employees may also require the facility to examine their workplace culture. Employers may need to create a team for brainstorming how to improve the workplace culture. For instance, monthly gift cards for employees that meet attendance and production goals, quarterly cookouts or group outings to minor league baseball or hockey games or a fishing trip at the end of the year to celebrate zero accidents and employees’ commitment to safety. A positive and worker friendly workplace culture may be that added benefit that attracts and retains your workforce. If you want to obtain more information on creating a positive workplace, just “Search It Up” as the new generation says.
Training new employees has always been a challenge for the feed industry since it is particularly specialized and offers relatively few training opportunities. However, the pandemic has created more online learning resources for employees new to the feed industry. In the past, K-State offered a 2-week feed manufacturing short course, which is no longer practical due to the fact that most feed mills cannot send one or two participants to a 2-week course. This has been replaced with the AFIA 500 Feed Manufacturing course, which is a 5-week online course that is offered quarterly. The content of this course is also offered in on-demand modules through AFIA and K-State. NGFA and GEAPS offers courses in grain handling, safety, and trade rules. There are Animal Food Safety training courses offered through trade organizations and universities. The Food Safety and Preventive Controls Alliance (FSPCA) offers in person, blended, and on-line classes to develop Preventive Controls Qualified Individuals (PCQI) to help facilities develop and implement Animal Food Safety Plans as well as training on Current Good Manufacturing Practices for Animal Food Protection. Equipment manufacturers are now offering webinars specific to their equipment, but which may also apply to the overall feed manufacturing process. Feedstuffs has also hosted webinars on feed manufacturing, which may be a great educational opportunity for your employees. Finally, consider some in person conferences to help your employees build their network and get exposed to new technology. In 2022 watch for information on IPPE in Atlanta, the US Poultry and Egg Association’s Feed Mill Management Seminar in Nashville, and the GEAPS Exchange in Kansas City.
There is no single answer as to how to attract and retain qualified feed mill employees. However, as Albert Einstein said, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” The feed industry is always going to need qualified workers, the challenge moving forward is how to attract, train, and retain those employees.