A report in Rural Migration News describes the four strategies agricultural employers are using to address the labor shortage: satisfy, stretch, substitute, and supplement.
The number of undocumented workers in the US rose from 4 million in 1995 to 8 million in 2007. After 2007, unauthorized border crossings slowed dramatically, and the undocumented workforce stopped expanding and started contracting. Ag workers are lost to city jobs, construction jobs, retirement and returning back to their countries of origin.
Ag employers pursue four strategies to address this shortage:
Satisfy: As with any business, it's smarter and usually cheaper to figure out how to satisfy your current customers/employees than to have to find new ones. The new ones will likely leave you for the same reasons if you don't address the causes of their dissatisfaction. And happy employees can bring in great referrals. But how do you use your limited resources in the best possible way to increase retention? Deepening your understanding of what makes your people stay (is it your wages? benefits? nice supervisors?) and what makes them leave (bad supervisors? inconsistent shifts?) can improve your return on investment of your time and money. Ganaz's new survey tool allows you to anonymously survey your whole workforce in just a few clicks. In future posts, we'll share ideas on what questions to ask.
Stretch: According to the report, dwarf trees, conveyor belts, and platform harvesters are helping growers do more with fewer workers. Another way of stretching the overall workforce is finding people that used to work in agriculture and are employed in other industries now. Ganaz has noticed a number of applicants coming back to agriculture for a week or two in addition to their other job to make some extra money. This is especially helpful for meeting peak harvest labor needs.
Substitute: In Silicon Valley and Seattle, the tech industry is pretty sure hand labor will soon be a thing of the past. But that talk fades as you drive further away from the office parks and towards the fields. Huge bets are being placed on robotics as many growers are losing sleep about the future of their workforce. But the return on those investments is mostly still unrealized, very risky and unlikely to be appropriate for all crops and small farmers.
Supplement: While we don't see many growers holding their breath for a robot to save them, many are taking the plunge into H2A. The H2A program has more than doubled in the last decade with most of the workers going to FL and NC. But WA and CA are now posting the fastest growth numbers and more than a few former agricultural workers now have construction jobs building housing for future H2A workers.
Which of the four S's has been most important for your operation?