Murray Linton reckons putting his staff through training is a no-brainer, which is why he’s supporting his two full-time workers to study through Primary ITO.
“I pay for their course costs because it benefits the farm. By going on a course, they gain an understanding of things like mastitis, why cows are producing like they are, the physiology of the cows, and the way pasture grows.”
Murray milks 480 cows on a 178ha (effective) farm which has been in the family for more than 70 years.
Putting his workers, Tayla Keane and Jen Russ, through training not only improves their skills and knowledge, it also boosts their motivation, he says.
“Having gone to class, where they sit with other trainees and talk to the tutor, they actually get a lot more interested in their job. They realise it’s not just about putting cups on every day and they end up taking a greater interest in your business.”
Murray helps cement on-farm what Tayla and Jen learn in class by continually talking about how best to run the farm, particularly looking at the science behind it and drawing from the DairyNZ knowledge base.
“We're always talking about things like rotation length, leaf emergence, metabolic energy, dry matter intakes and cow physiology.”
Won’t they leave me?
Murray says there’s a commonly-held view that if you train your staff, they’ll soon leave you for a higher-paying job.
“The counter to that is if you don’t train them they might stay, which is even worse! I think if you’re willing to invest in their future, then they’ll stay with you and appreciate that they’re going somewhere in their job.”
Besides, everyone in the sector has a responsibility to improve the overall skill base, he says.
“I remember hearing a farmer complain there weren’t enough managers around to hire. When the training advisor asked him, ‘Well, how many of your staff are in training?’, he said, ‘None’.”
What about the cost?
“The financial costs really aren’t that large compared to the benefits,” says Murray.
DairyNZ’s investment (which comes out of the farmer levy) in Primary ITO helps to keep training costs down, so trainees don’t have to pay huge amounts of money, explains Alister Shennan, General Manager Business Development and Field Operations at Primary ITO.
“Government pays around 70 percent of the training and the remaining 30 percent is covered by DairyNZ and the trainee. It makes training very cost effective.”
The price of training varies but a year-long course will typically cost trainees about $250 to $500 says Alister.
Murray admits that finding time for his workers to go to classes can be a challenge.
“It’s just a matter of managing the roster and making sure you’ve got the people available.”
Staying the course
When times are tough, farmers may feel tempted to cut back on staff development.
Murray believes that’s a dangerous mindset, especially if you’ve already reduced the size of your team.
“Running with less staff means there’s more pressure on them, so that motivational factor is important. Underlying it all is the health and safety aspect too. I make sure all my staff have done their Level 2 qualification – the tractor and quad bike safety stuff.”
A seat at the table
Murray’s passion for a more highly skilled dairy workforce has seen him take a leadership role as chair of the Dairy Industry Partnership Group (IPG), one of 14 IPGs that help Primary ITO develop its courses.
The IPGs act as the voice of the primary industries, talking to Primary ITO about training matters, qualification review and development, industry events and research.
“The IPG is about identifying needs and reviewing what’s in the qualifications. The industry has to be involved in where the training goes. That’s where the rubber hits the road,” Murray says.
This article was originally published in Inside Dairy November 2016