Managing the Hispanic Dairy Workforce

Dr. Ronald L. Boman
USU Extension Dairy Specialist

Producers and managers who attended the Utah Dairy Seminars toward the end of 2004 had the opportunity to hear some very interesting concepts on managing dairy farm employees, and particularly the Hispanic workforce. Gregorio (Greg) Billikopf, Agriculture Labor Management Specialist from the University of California, Davis, was our featured educator. We also had a separate panel of three dairy producers at each of the three locations who shared their success in managing their Hispanic employees. It was very evident that these panelists really do value their Hispanic employees and that they make every effort of understand their culture, adequately compensate them for work well done, and provide housing, and other appropriate support.

Greg stated that, �Hiring the right person for the job may be the most critical management decision you will make.� He then went on to explain that dairy producers should develop a job description and actually have the job applicants take a hands-on test and perform some of the labors that will be expected of them before deciding who to hire. This could include moving animals from one pen to another, operating tractors or loaders, or doing some milking under supervision. The tasks to be performed during this test will depend on the job description. Greg mentioned that those seeking employment on dairies may say �they can even fly an airplane if required� because they desperately need work. Without a practical test to determine the skills of a potential employee, the dairy producer may end up hiring individuals who really can�t do the job and then have to fire them. Greg mentioned that there may be emergency situations where dairy producers need to hire someone on the spot to avoid having to milk the cows themselves. In such a situation, Greg recommends hiring on a temporary basis with a clear explanation that the job is temporary and that the person will have an opportunity to formally apply with the rest of the applicants when the job is advertised. Greg stressed that, �If an employee is not working out, action must be taken promptly.� Termination of temporary or permanent employees has legal, economic, and practical consequences, but the longer a worker is kept in the job, the greater the potential consequences associated with a discharge. Interestingly enough, most of the panelists said that as long as they treat their employees with respect and compensate them adequately for their work, they have no problems with employee retention. Also, when an employee would leave for vacation or for other reasons, the other employees usually had someone they were related to or whom they knew well to recommend to fill the vacancy. It was obvious that the panelists that spoke Spanish, or were trying to learn some basic conversational skills, had an advantage in conveying to the Hispanic workforce that they were valued employees. I�ve co-authored a booklet �Simplified Dairyman�s Spanish� to help dairy producers become able to speak enough Spanish (with proper intonation) to let their employees know that they are important to them and to also more fully explain the job requirements. This booklet is available from Nancy Daines (nancyd@ext.usu.edu or (435) 797-2157) for $5. It is also available on the USU Diversity web page at http://extension.usu.edu/diversity.

Greg discussed many other helpful concepts to consider in managing the Hispanic workforce, such as interacting with employees, incentive pay, performance appraisal, and employee discipline. These subjects are all covered by whole chapters in his book Labor Management in Agriculture: Cultivating Personal Productivity, which is available to view and to download individual chapters or the entire book at http://tinyurl.com/kjrf . You can also purchase a deluxe hard copy of the book on-line. ©