Once upon a time, finding keen young farmers to join a contracting gang was a fairly straightforward affair.
Nowadays, however, it’s becoming a struggle to find experienced operators who want to do the hours some jobs demand.
We asked contractors to give us their tips.
Martin Hayes, Derbyshire
“If you find a good member of staff, pay them well and give them good toys to play with.
“It might sound simple, but as an employer you need to be always dangling carrots to get the best out of people,” explains Derbyshire contractor Martin Hays.
For example, don’t expect staff to sit week after week on a slurry pump without the prospect of something different or more exciting, he adds.
How to find staff
Try using Facebook and Twitter
Use the NAAC website to advertise
National magazine or agency
Think about apprenticeships with local colleges
Advertise in local colleges
Ask around local farmers
“I always try and make it clear that if someone makes a good job of, say, raking, then I’ll let them mow next time, or show them how to bale.”
“It’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation with taking on young or inexperienced people,” he says. “You have to give them a chance to learn.
“But I’ve been in the position of investing time and money in someone, allowing them to become skilled, only for them to be attracted elsewhere by an employer who offers them slightly more money and shorter hours.”
Staff are offered training, paid weekly and are also on the books, which Mr Hays believes gives the employer a bit more protection.
RC Baker, Oxfordshire
Recruiting staff is done either by word of mouth or increasingly via the internet for Oxfordshire contractors RC Baker, says Steven Baker.
“We use our Facebook page first of all and then our own website. If that fails to get a good response, we go further afield to national agencies.
“Every person has a job book, which has to be completed in order for them to be paid, but wages are paid monthly via Bacs and this can either be employed or self-employed, depending on preference.”
Training is also offered and employees have an annual appraisal, which gives them a chance to air any grievances.
“It is becoming more difficult to find good people who want to do the work,” he says, “but the advice I would give is not to manage everyone in the same way.
“Every member of staff is different and wants a different work-life balance.”
Chris Johnson, Yorkshire
For Chris Johnson, who runs Yorkshire Gritters and grounds maintenance subsidiary Weedwipeout, incentivising staff and paying them above the normal rate has meant that his business has been able to expand.
“Farmers’ lads are often very quiet during the winter months and need some other form of work, so it’s worked out really well.”
How to keep staff
Don’t keep them on one task too long
Pay regularly; this helps you and them
Equip them with the appropriate clothing and equipment
Consider bonuses and reward a good job well done
From just gritting, the business has grown expanded into groundscare and amenities for the companies looked after in the winter.
Mr Johnson now has about 10 regular staff in the winter and four in the summer, who either have their own four-wheel drives or use one of his to undertake gritting and snow clearance runs on a nightly basis.
“We get an email at lunchtime with the forecast and then can plan the route from there.
“I offer a fantastic wage and a bonus-related scheme which deducts an amount depending on careless damage or any complaints we’ve received.”
The bonus is not just missed out on by the individual responsible, but by the whole team.
“It might sound draconian, but in the five or so years I have been running it, there’s only been one month the lads missed out on their bonus, and it hasn’t happened again.”
Mr Johnson also provides all the appropriate PPE, including good boots and sign-written high-vis jackets.
“If we are clearing a festival-site for example, I make sure they have syringe-proof gloves.”
He also visits the cash-and-carry to stock up on water and snacks, so that workers can grab something if they need it.
“If we’ve been working solidly for hours I will try and grab a Starbucks or something to give the guys a little boost.”
Invoices are submitted on a Monday morning and paid either that night or the next morning via Bacs.
“At the end of the year we always have a night out and I give them a crate of their favourite tipple.
“Or, in some cases, if there’s a bit of equipment they want, I will help them out with that.”