Grains Research and Development

Date: 01.09.2014

Right boss for the right staff

Author: Rebecca Jennings

Image of a woman in a paddock with a laptop

NSW grain growers Trisha (pictured) and Nick Eckermann are changing how they manage employees as a result of a ‘Being a better boss’ workshop funded by the GRDC and delivered by Partners in Grain.

PHOTO: Partners in Grain

Mid-west New South Wales producer Trisha Eckermann estimates she spends one day a week managing staff at ‘Woranora’, the 9300-hectare property north of Griffith where she lives with her husband, Nick, and their two young children.

The Eckermanns have expanded their dryland cropping enterprise over the past three years and labour requirements have led to casual workers joining the enterprise, in addition to their original full-time staff member.

Trisha says managing their predominantly backpacker workforce – which, by its nature, has a high turnover – has been challenging. In the past four years, the couple has employed about 40 itinerant workers for varying amounts of time.

“It has been a steep learning curve. I underestimated the amount of knowledge and paperwork required,” she says. “Some workers don’t have tax file numbers, so I have to help them apply for one. They often don’t have appropriate footwear, hats or even sunscreen, so we need to kit them out to meet our on-farm OH&S requirements. Time sheets, wages, tax rates, even induction processes are all elements we have had to introduce into our business.”

Not surprisingly, Trisha jumped at the chance to attend a ‘Being a better boss’ pilot workshop in Wagga Wagga, NSW, in March, delivered by the national Partners in Grain (PinG) network with GRDC funding.

“It was reassuring to realise I’m not the only one facing these challenges,” she says. “Growers don’t have their own HR departments, so the workshop took away the ambiguity of paperwork and explained our legal requirements.

“I got a lot of great tips which we are now implementing, including training staff by ‘teaching not telling’ and introducing systems and processes.”

PinG national coordinator Kim Blenkiron says investing in the right people is a crucial, but often underrated, business decision.

“As farm businesses expand they employ more people, but many growers don’t feel they have the skills to find the right staff and manage them,” she says. “And people tend to leave their employer, not their job, so we want to equip growers with the skills to be a better boss, and to make better recruitment decisions.”

PinG has two workshops: ‘Being a Better Boss: Managing People’ and ‘Being a Better Boss: Industrial Relations’.

Ms Blenkiron says the ‘Being a Better Boss’ workshops show how the foundation of good working relationships is communication, so the workshop content also applies to situations where the younger generation works on the farm:

“Two-way communication and building a valued team also lay a pathway for succession planning.”

The workshops also cover writing an advertisement that will attract the right candidate, induction processes and structuring an appropriate wage package. Other topics include performance management, conflict resolution and ‘tackling the tough decisions’.

The workshops cover employers’ legal requirements, employment law, contracts, award rates, enterprise agreements, termination and record-keeping.

“Together, the workshops position growers to not only be an employer of choice but to also ensure they are not exposed to risk,” Ms Blenkiron says.

PinG will roll out about 50 workshops nationally in the next two years. For dates and details, contact your state PinG coordinator: http://partnersingrain.org.au

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GRDC Project Code PIG00009

Region South, North