Hiring the right people for your dairy?

Job descriptions are key building strong HR management
calendar icon 13 March 2023
clock icon 5 minute read

If you answered “no" to that question then maybe you need to review – or create – job descriptions that you have for key positions. Job descriptions provide the foundation for building strong human resource management practices into the day-to-day management of a dairy farm business.

One of the key purposes of a well written job description is to serve as a guide for hiring decisions. Consider this: a manager has recently left your dairy for another position. This particular manager had exceptional performance and his or her replacement needs to be equally skilled and perform just as well. Where do you start the hiring process? What tasks did that manager complete? What organizational knowledge just walked out the door, creating a hole in your organization? How can you begin to replace the knowledge, skills, and abilities in that manager? The answer starts with a well-developed job description.

Potential workers are constantly comparing among organizations when looking for employment. Dairies that have no job descriptions or ones that are poorly written are at a disadvantage when workers are looking at that dairy for employment. A good job description can help to recruit the best people for the position by providing clarity about what is required for the job and what day-to-day tasks are expected to be completed. A good job description shows potential new hires (as well as seasoned employees) where they "fit" within the dairy. If the dairy chooses to advertise for workers or use a service to help locate new employees, the job description provides the launching point for beginning the search.

Job descriptions need not be cumbersome, but rather can be rather easy to develop and customize for your dairy farm business. Penn State offers an online tool (Penn State Online Job Description Generator) that is based on research with focus groups of dairy farm owners and employees to determine what key tasks were performed for different levels of positions in dairy businesses. The focus groups provided a broad array of tasks for specific levels of positions from front line workers like milkers and feeders, to middle managers, and even owners and senior managers. The simple to use, drop-down menus allow you to choose tasks. Additional information may be added in order to create a "custom fit" rather than a "cookie cutter" approach to developing job descriptions for your dairy.

The process of creating job descriptions starts by reviewing the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed for each position. Five key parts to a typical job description include:

  1. Job title. The job title should accurately and simply describe the job. For example, milker or milking technician, parlor manager or herd manager.
  2. Summary. This is a concise definition of the job's major responsibilities, including where and when it is performed. You might use the summary when advertising for the position.
  3. Qualifications. A description of any experience, training, or education that is necessary to perform the job. Also, any physical characteristics essential to performing the job, such as the ability to lift and carry a certain weight. Be sure to avoid statements that might be discriminatory on grounds of race, gender, age, or national origin. Be aware that there are some jobs young people are not legally allowed to do.
  4. Duties or Tasks. This is the list of all activities that the person will perform. The number of different duties depends on how specialized workers' roles are on the farm. Most employers add at the end of the list "other duties as assigned by supervisor" as a way of including those activities that are not routine.
  5. Work relationships. All workers need to know where they fit in the organization. The work relationship section should clearly define who the worker's supervisor is and how the worker's position relates to other positions. Be sure that each position only has one supervisor.

Other optional items that may be included as part of the job description include:

  1. Compensation and Benefits. Include in this section all compensation that is offered. An hourly wage range, insurance, vacation, sick leave, and so on should be clearly stated. Housing, use of farm products such as milk or meat, use of equipment, and so forth are all legitimate forms of compensation and should be given a fair market value. You should also specify how much these non-monetary benefits may be used so that there is less chance of conflict later.
  2. Work schedule. Define work hours as much as possible. Define overtime policy if one applies. If work hours vary with the seasons, make that clear in the description.

Once good job descriptions are developed, it is much easier to review and modify them as the needs of the dairy change over time. In addition to their usefulness in the hiring process, job descriptions are useful tools in training new employees and evaluating the performance of existing employees. Job descriptions provide the foundation for building strong human resource management practices into the day-to-day management of a dairy farm business.

Imagine musicians in an orchestra trying to find their roles and play the correct notes without a written piece of music to guide them. Like the sheet music, the written job description helps workers to see where they fit in the organization, and like the sheet music the written job description helps workers to learn how to perform tasks correctly. If your dairy is running a little "off key," try developing good job descriptions as part of a tune up this year!


Lisa A. Holden

Lisa A. Holden

Lisa A. Holden

Penn State University Extension
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