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Hewlett provides insights for producers on hiring and keep agriculture workers

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Staffing, supervising and managing agriculture workers can be rough for producers, said a University of Wyoming (UW) Extension educator.

On Nov. 8, UW’s John Hewlett presented a webinar titled, “Hiring and Keeping Agricultural Workers,” organized by the American Sheep Industry Association Let’s Grow Committee and the RightRisk Education Team.

  Hewlett offered insights into different options for managing agriculture workers.

“My goals are to help producers understand staffing approaches and how to supervise agriculture workers, as well as help producers better manage employee performance,” said Hewlett.

Farm staffing

Using the book Ag Help Wanted, compiled by six agriculture economists, including himself, Hewlett noted staffing starts with deciding who works in the business and ends with orienting new employees.

“Producers should establish a hiring process, including steps to follow the process. The steps should include clarifying job content, assessing applicants and communicating decisions to other people involved,” Hewlett said.

“When conducting an interview, employers should have a set list of questions for consistent evaluation across applicants, and each applicant should be offered the same interview experience for fairness,” Hewlett added.

After interviews, other details may need to be considered, like co-worker compatibility, how the applicant may reflect the operation and whether they could bring more to the job than expected.

He stated, the question producers should ask themselves is whether they can expect different results if they follow the same approach for hiring that resulted in poor workers.

“Inconsistency between job requirements and individual ability is a foundation for poor performance. Work performance depends on ability and motivation, and neither is sufficient without the other,” Hewlett added.

Taking into account the hiring process and work performance, effective selection approaches raise the odds of hiring more capable employees, he noted.

Selection approaches

Hewlett mentioned there are multiple approaches producers can utilize to select agricultural workers.

“It is both legal and smart to select job applicants based on ability and job attributes, like production knowledge, lifting abilities, etc. On the other hand, personal factors, like gender and race are illegal to discriminate against,” he mentioned.

In general, producers often select applicants who fit the job description well enough, but picking applicants better suited to the job may be a better approach, Hewlett noted.

“There are times when producers might not hire the best-qualified applicant because the applicant may require significant training, in which case promoting a current employee might be the better choice,” he added.

Hewlett stated the idea behind developing a hiring process or selection approach is to achieve the ability to match applicant’s skills and interests with available jobs.

“Having written job descriptions lays the foundation for recruitment, selection and management. Job descriptions should outline basic job details, like purpose, content and attributes,” he mentioned, noting employers need to be very clear on job qualifications and whether an applicant meets the requirements.

His advice is to collect applicant information in steps, so applicants who best match the selection criteria can be focused on more.

Employee supervision

Supervising workers on the operation can ensure jobs are done correctly, which is important for business success.

“Employers have to make decisions about who will supervise, determine work assignments and foster team work. Picking a qualified applicant who can be a supervisor can be very beneficial, but not everyone is cut out for the job,” he added.

According to Hewlett, supervisors are the critical link between employees and management.

“Supervisors who do well at their job should have better supervision, resulting in better work performance from employees,” Hewlett mentioned.

Producers should also consider the level of participation employees will have within in the decision making process, and should acknowledge managing supervisors is different than managing workers.


When managing employee performance, important considerations are wage and benefit levels, motivation, employee ability and performance assessments.

“Performance management covers all the different communication between the producer and employee and should include what to do, how to do it, how well it was done and future improvements,” noted Hewlett. “Most people want to do a good job, but poor performance can be traced back to negative experiences, inequity, fatigue and mixed messages.”

He said figuring out how to motivate employees is also important, so producers should be clear about what employees are expected to do, how they are doing and how they can monitor their own performance.

“Producers can enhance motivation by determining what excites and drains employees and what employee’s on-the-job experience is and then improving the experience,” Hewlett said.

Producers should also look at whether the pay and benefits could increase motivation, as well.

Hewlett noted, providing accurate feedback can help pinpoint areas for employee improvement, and it is important to have a performance appraisals.

“Structured appraisals offer producers the chance to provide meaningful feedback, which can result in increased effort and improvement in certain aspects of the job,” Hewlett stated.

“It is important for producers to manage the people side of their agricultural business for its overall success going forward,” he concluded.

Heather Loraas is assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at

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