Continuing Education for Today’s Dairy Employees and Managers

Published on Thu, 11/10/2022 - 10:59am

Continuing Education for Today’s Dairy Employees and Managers.

 By Jaclyn Krymowski.

 Investing in employees can make all the difference in the retention and work ethics you see from them. Hiring candidates with experience is always a plus, but that is alone not enough. From the most skilled new hire to the least, taking the time to train for dairy-specific tasks, responsibilities and protocols should always be a pivotal part of the onboarding process.

As employees develop and grow into their roles, further education or training from professional representatives can provide even more knowledge and strength to the on-farm team. Whenever anyone new joins the team, having a semi-formal orientation and training program in place will make the transition process smoother and reduce errors due to insufficient knowledge.

But even with such a program in place, training should continue to be an ongoing process that continues throughout employment, but the orientation should be an introduction to the role they are stepping into.

And this isn’t limited solely to hires - even managers and owners can find immense benefit in ongoing learning.

On-farm training
According to the National Dairy FARM Program, starting employees with training on animal care and basic handling in their area of responsibility ensures safety for them and the livestock. Proper handling training and the expectation of zero-tolerance also create a low-stress environment for the livestock.

Part of education should include not only the day-to-day expectations in the treatment and responsibilities for the animals but also provide details into special scenarios. At least some employees on any given shift should have formal education on how to handle various emergency-type situations both in regard to people and animals. This should be coupled with a list of SOPs or protocols for these issues placed in an accessible area.

Even new employees should have some awareness of protocols for emergency situations gives them some preparedness even though they might have experience in an exact emergency situation.

On any livestock operation, having an animal handling and care portion to the training is vital to maintain efficiency, safety and the well-being of all involved. It can also alleviate some liability that may come with work injuries involving cattle.

Before bringing new employees on board (especially if it’s a new role), make sure there are written, standardized training protocols with any additional information written out for future reference.

Even if you have employees who aren’t involved with livestock, safety training should be essential as related to their respective environments. This includes topics on equipment, chemical handling, manure management and other details that encompass a broad array of hazards and accidents that could happen.

If you are large enough to have different employees specialized in different aspects of farm management, be sure that everyone is familiar with the managers and supervisors of each area. That way, communication and issues can be resolved quickly.

Using outside resources
Keep in mind that continuing education isn’t only limited to on-farm activities or team meetings hosted by staff or management. There is a much wider variety of training methods available to dairy employees such as industry professionals, community college courses, conventions and job shadowing.

Discussions, presentations and resources from specialists like veterinarians, nutritionists, technical service teams (pharmaceutical, reproduction, milk quality, etc.), university and extension faculty and staff, or dairy quality assurance state coordinators are all immensely beneficial. Not to mention, they are sometimes completely free to use!

Print and digital media training are also viable options and becoming more readily available. Brief video sessions or virtual training models can be completed in short time frames and show how specific tasks are done in detail. You may be able to find some on YouTube or from a company you work with like a bull stud. Sites like the Cornell Small Farms Program offer interactive 5 to 8-week courses that connect you to the information and people that can help diversify your farm and employees through virtual training.

Printed articles or extension bulletins are additional easy reference materials that can be distributed as needed and placed in high-visibility areas.

Benefits of trained employees
Having trained employees not only enhances safety around the farm, but it also allows them to be confident and independent in their work.

While human error is inevitable, lack of training - or assigning the wrong person to a particular job - is a common reason for avoidable costly or dangerous accidents. That’s not to say that lack of understanding or experience should limit anyone’s usefulness, but having proper advanced training and working under supervision will greatly reduce issues.

Creating an atmosphere that values a continued learning approach gives workers encouragement to stay with you longer and fosters a willingness to do more. The right foundation, coupled with better employee retention rates, means that you will also have more workers who can do more while being effective and efficient.

And when you bring on new hires, established employees can be part of your onboarding and training processes. This equates to less work for owners and managers and helps build workplace camaraderie.

Note that the most successful employees will want to continue to learn, and there are always more teaching opportunities available. Like the rest of the industry, no dairy is a static thing.

Over time new technology or managers will offer new and more efficient ways to do things, more research will be made available out, different equipment is acquired and regulations will change – education through these changes will make the transition periods as smooth as possible.

As a morale boost, employees should continue to receive feedback on their performance and feel free to ask questions continually. This will help with any additional training or adjustments they may need.

Naturally, most employees want to put their best foot forward and get the job done right. Employers should be comfortable about giving feedback in a respectful manner that builds a positive relationship.