Dairy farm workplaces are being affected by technological change, changing employee expectations and increased competition for staff. To ensure they're attracting and retaining talented staff in 2030, we need to prepare for change.
This project will:
- Develop solutions to make dairy farming more attractive and productive.
- Identify future solutions for dairy workplace design.
- Determine the productivity potential and features of future workplaces.
How the dairy workplace is evolving
New Zealand’s workforce is aging, and will have a greater proportion of young Māori, Pasifika and Asian people. There’ll be more part-time employees in future.
Technological change is automating tasks, providing better information for on-farm decision-making, and enhanced learning methods.
Preference for variety
Job tenures will shorten, and dairy employees will prefer variety in their careers. Farm workplaces will need to allow for people moving in and out of our sector, rather than fighting this trend.
Job flexibility is becoming more common including casual and short term ‘gig’ work and the physical location of work. For example more people are working from home and for companies like Uber
Demand is growing among young staff for ongoing learning and upskilling through virtual and remote methods, such as using short video tutorials.
Focusing on the challenges
In February 2019 nine South Island farmers put their hands up to be part of a series of innovation workshops tackling current dairy workplace challenges.
As part of the design process, this farmer co-design team visited Auckland businesses to understand the pressures faced by non-agricultural workplaces, and their responses.
Six ideas generated by the team were then selected for development and on-farm testing:
Disrupting dairy roles
Less hierarchical team structures to empower and engage the whole team.
This prototype focuses on redefining roles to deliver a more efficient and appealing workplace that is less hierarchical, with a creative approach to working with farm teams. Farmers already employ a variety of methods to create happy and effective teams, and this concept will draw on ‘Agile management’ approaches to think differently about team management.
The main activities include:
- To explore the application of ‘Agile’ style approaches in dairy farm management
- Understand how ‘Agile’ can lead to resilient systems that are easy to execute
- Train and coach some farm teams through the use of Agile management
A tool that matches tasks to people and expands labour availability into the local community.
In this prototype we are looking for ways farm teams can have more choice in the tasks they do on farm. We are looking for approaches to move away from rigid structures around allocating daily tasks to a more flexible approach. This first requires understanding the different tasks that are undertaken on farms, the hours those tasks take, and the time of the year they need to be done. Then we can look at allowing people to choose the ‘task packages’ they want. Success would be having access to people who wouldn’t usually be able to work on farm due to time or other constraints.
The main activities include:
- Testing the idea of work choice with a range of farm teams
- Potentially implementing a prototype app on farms
- Understanding how the task packages differ across a range of farm types
Technology in training
A transformation of the way we standardise, develop, and deliver training through better use of technology.
In this prototype we aim to make learning a technology-supported visual experience for use in real farm situations. We are seeking a new way to easily train and induct staff. Currently farmers show new staff what to do. This can be an intensive process, and tasks can be quite farm specific. Developing innovative ways to get practical and credible information to entry-level farm staff when they need it will develop more confident and capable farm teams.
Activities in this prototype will be focused around:
- Understanding the skill needs of entry-level farm staff
- Canvassing innovative technology-supported learning approaches
- Piloting a tool to help entry-level farm staff quickly upskill in an engaging way
Breeding better leaders
Valuing people leadership and EQ development over traditional transactional skills.
The aim of this prototype is to design and test a novel approach to engaging dairy farmers (and their teams) around leadership capability building. Leadership and emotional intelligence are often talked about, but difficult to master in practice. Many farmers are more comfortable focusing on transactional skills around pasture and animal management rather than ‘people stuff’. The long- term goal is for dairy farmers to be known as employers with high empathy and leadership skills.
Activities in this prototype will include:
- A simple and supported process of learning, coaching and peer-to-peer interactions around practical concepts of leadership
- Understanding how to adopt a ‘growth mindset’, and helping individuals understand how they learn
- A training and mentoring pilot will be aimed at engaging people who don’t traditionally seek out leadership
Alternative milking windows
A focus on maintaining profitability while improving the workplace and reducing burnout.
Milking is a key feature of the dairy working day, and potential employees can be put off by unsociable milking times. However, alternatives to the traditional twice-a-day milking, such as once-a-day, have milk production penalties. This prototype is aimed at developing alternative milking windows where the related savings outweigh the loss in milk production. Success is where employees work less with more flexible hours.
This prototype would include:
- Creating robust cost-benefit information on alternative milking windows
- Case studies on how farmers have managed their farms with alternative milking windows
- A decision support calculator
These areas are currently being investigated in a Sustainable Farming Fund project, started in July 2019, called Flexible Milking for Healthier People and Cows. Information about the three-year project, led by DairyNZ and co-funded through MPI and the Sustainable Farming Fund, can be found here.
Transferable, measured potential
Development, training and formal recognition of skills that are transferable both inside and outside of dairy.
Dairy careers are perceived by other industries as unskilled. The skills developed by dairy employees are not recognised, and often regarded as repetitious and unappealing. The aim of this prototype is to enable farm staff to specialise in farm skills that are recognised as transferable to other industries, such as mechanical skills, management, data analysis, people management and leadership. Aspects of this prototype are currently being investigated in DairyNZ, through Dairy Training Limited and Centres of Vocational Excellence.
These concepts are being piloted and assessed with some members of the farmer team this season. Successful ideas will be rolled out to interested farmers across the country in the next season.
Innovation and International perspectives on future workplaces
Melissa Clark-Reynolds. Futurist, Beef & Lamb board member, bee keeper looks at international trends that are exciting and some which might influence workplaces, and asks how can farmer business people embrace future thinking and be ready for change.
Are you interested in being involved in DairyNZ's exciting people management research project? We’ve created a community of interest group which you could be part of.
- Innovate and develop leading workplace practices that solve dairy farming workplace issues
- Generate and bounce ideas with people management experts and likeminded farmers
- Gain exposure to the latest workplace practices
Interested in the project?
There are a variety of other ways you can be involved, or we can keep you in the loop with updates from the project, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll keep you engaged!