Personal development and training


5 min read

Benefits of providing training and development On-farm training Effective on-farm training Off-farm training Developing a training plan Actioning the training plan Additional resources

Personal development and training will improve an employee’s job satisfaction and allows the you to fill skill gaps in your business. Creating a training and development plan together with your employee, covering both on-farm and off-farm aspects, demonstrates your support and appreciation for them. It also sets your business up for success.

Benefits of providing training and development opportunities

Training is an investment in your future business success as well as in your staff. Your business will benefit from the additional skills your employee gains and the new enthusiasm they bring to the job from learning new skills.

Some of the key benefits of providing training opportunities for your employees include;

  • Higher awareness around health and safety and correct methods to do tasks → a safer workplace.
  • Improves work performance → better business success.
  • Your team feel valued that you are investing in them → increased retention.
  • Increased job satisfaction and motivation → better retention.
  • Your team have better skills and knowledge → can take on more responsibility.

Training for the job vs training for development

Most jobs will require on-farm training to complete daily tasks. This is known as ‘task training’- training required to ensure people can do their job well and safely. Your employees may also want to have other training that increases their level of capability. This form of training is called ‘developmental training’ and helps build confidence and bring broad skills such as leadership and organisational skills to the team. Ultimately, this benefits your business as it enables employees to perform better across a wider range of areas.

On-farm training

Most task training can be done on the farm by you or by an experienced team member. Make sure whoever does the training is not just technically competent but is also a good communicator and patient. Often an experienced hand or an up-and-coming leader make good trainers and coaches.

If there are not any suitable team members to help, or you would prefer to get someone in, there are several companies offering on-farm training for skills such as quad bike driving, feeding out etc.

There are also online resources including:

Tips for effective on-farm training

Because many tasks are second nature to employers, it’s common to underestimate the complexity of on-farm tasks and the challenge of training staff to carry them out. It’s better to over-explain when training employees on the farm.

  • Prepare yourself. Think about how you would you explain the task. Is there a reason you do things a particular way? Are you open to learning from the employee's experience and change how things are done? How are you going to help embed the learning?
  • Discuss what they already know about the skill or task from previous experience and determine what gaps need to be addressed. Demonstrate and explain the skill to them slowly. Pause between steps and be sure all steps are clearly understood.
  • Allow them to go through a skill step-by-step while you talk through what is to be done and offer help where needed.
  • Allow them to demonstrate the skill on their own without input from you.
  • Ask them to give feedback on how they think they did and provide them with on how they performed the skill. Remember to note the positive points.

Training for a new skill doesn’t automatically lead to being proficient or confident in it. Provide opportunities for your employee to practice their new skills on-farm following training. This will help embed the learning every time they use their new skill.

It’s important for your employee to feel comfortable trying new things and being willing to give them another try if they're not successful the first time. Avoid talking down to them or dismissing any ideas they may have from previous experience or jobs.

If you’re conducting group training on-farm, consider the team dynamics before you start. This may help you manage the different personalities.

Off-farm training and development

Not all off-farm training has to come at a cost. An employee may appreciate being given time to attend discussion groups, field days, training days by vets etc. A great place to see what’s coming up in your region is the Dairy Events Calendar.

More formal training options are also widely available.

  • For practical skills such as quad bike driving, tractor driving, milking, or feeding out, check with your neighbours to see if they know of any local providers.
  • There are numerous providers of short courses, with some coming to your property.
  • There are also on-line options emerging that provide some foundational learning to support practical learning on farm.
  • Dairy farming qualifications, such as the National Certificate in Agriculture, provide employees more career-oriented programmes that will help them progress from farm assistant, to manager, and to business owner.
  • There are many training providers in the market. Make sure you check with others in your community about whether they deliver a good quality product. Two starting points are:
  • Sector award programmes like Dairy Trainee of the Year from the Dairy Industry Awards, and Farm Manager of the Year, from the Ahuwhenua Awards are excellent ways to support, inspire and guide employees. They help individuals grasp the opportunities within the sector, while also highlighting the necessary training and work required to progress their careers.
  • Leadership and personal development courses, including those specific to the agricultural industry, are a fantastic way to challenge your employee and invest in their personal growth

Developing a training plan

In the first 2-4 weeks of a new employee starting, discuss their existing skill set. Agree where they may need further training. Understanding what areas they are interested in learning more about is also important. Ensure that you have also thought about what skill gaps currently exist on the farm and if there is any opportunity to train on-farm or perhaps train more than one person in a task so that you have cover.

Write a training plan for each employee which details what training they need, or want, and why. Work with your employee to determine whether on-farm or off-farm training would be most effective. Usually, a combination of the two is best as it provides variety. One of the best ways to develop and train employees is by finding them a skilled coach or mentor.

It’s important to make sure your employee knows why they are doing any training. If they do not see the relevance of the training or aren’t interested in doing it they may not be very motivated to complete it.

For all employees, plan yearly development check ins.

Actioning the training plan

Where possible it’s best employees complete most of their training during work time. This shows them you value them and their learning. Schedule regular and structured on-farm training into your employee's roster (and your own where relevant) and support them to complete it.

Be realistic and make sure training can fit into your employee's roster whilst also giving them time with family and friends. On most farms it’s unrealistic to think much off-farm training can happen during calving through to mating.

Have a discussion with your employee about what will happen if training falls on a rostered day off. It may be acceptable to you both that 80% of training occurs within rostered hours and 20% outside, Or it may be that training completed out of work hours is given back as time-in-lieu. The exact breakdown is likely to be influenced by who initiates the training and the costs associated with the training, both financial and time.

Last updated: May 2024

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