Tackling Labor Challenges with Technology and Innovation |

Tackling Labor Challenges with Technology and Innovation

labor and tech The youngest living Baby Boomers will reach retirement age in the next 4 years. That, plus other challenges, is the reason 60% of ag retail leaders say labor is their number one concern. How can rural co-ops and agribusinesses compete for talent in a shrinking pool of applicants? Well, the answer is not simple or a one-size-fits-all, but, technology can be key to attracting the right people to your business and setting them up for success.

During our latest AgVend Partner Summit Jason Worthington, Director of Account Management at MFA Inc., Jeff Crissinger, VP of Agronomy Sales & Marketing at NuWay-K&H Cooperative, and Haylee VanScoy, Director of Grain Purchasing & Risk Management at Heritage Cooperative, sat down and shared their thoughts on this very topic.

Each with unique experiences talked about their strategies to overcome the labor challenges facing the ag industry, grow successful teams, and cultivate environments people want to work in.

Tap into new talent pools

While it’s true that Baby Boomers are retiring and farm kids are opting not to return home, other talent is out there. So, how do you find it?

There’s not enough farm kids being made to keep up with demand. So we look at folks who are ag adjacent and give them experiences so they can interact intelligently with our producers.
– Jason Worthington, MFA Inc.
There’s a surge of interest from non-traditional ag kids (Farm Bureau, 2023). This calls for unique methods of recruitment and retention strategies to find new pools of talent and innovative technology to bridge potential knowledge gaps.

When you’re in an ag space, you’re obviously wanting to hire ag people, but that’s a really small labor pool. So we’ve shifted to trying to find non-ag sector employees.
– Haylee VanScoy, Heritage Cooperative

Create a culture worth working for

It isn’t enough to only utilize various sources of talent, ensuring the right culture fit is a crucial element in keeping employees happy and getting them to stay long-term. But to find that alignment, retailers need to take stock of their core values and how those impact the business from top to bottom.

When we talk about turnover and how culture plays in recruiting and retention, I’ve come to realize some of our best leaders who retain talent are the most accountable.
– Jason Worthington, MFA Inc.
Being on the front edge of innovation is something we really try to live out every day. Our brand promise is to be diversified, innovative, and provide exceptional value. Those are three things we want to focus on and center our decision-making around as much as we possibly can.
– Jeff Crissinger, NuWay-K&H Cooperative
Culture is built by connecting with one another and technology plays a critical role in enabling collaboration, innovation, and efficiency for your customers AND your employees.

Empower different generations

On top of other labor challenges, ag retailers are faced with navigating generational differences and a shift in the employer-employee relationship. No longer a group that can be ignored at nearly half of the US market (Yates, 2023), Millennials and Gen Z enter the marketplace with a higher value on their time and experience. Seemingly always looking for their next move, how can employers capture their long-term attention?

Seeing a path for opportunity to improve is very, very, very important with [Millennials and Gen Z]. You have to engage with them and the other thing is work-life balance. It’s becoming more important for all generations that I’ve noticed, including the Boomers and the Xers.
– Jason Worthington, MFA Inc.
Given the on-the-go nature of ag retail teams, it is important to offer tools that give them access to the information when they need it from the office to the field and in return, support a more manageable work-life balance.

Empower different generations

According to Forbes in 2023, 74% of Millennial (27-42 years old) and Gen Z (11-26 years old) workers planned to quit their jobs due to a lack of skills-building opportunities. Similarly almost three-quarters of employees aged 45 to 74 say the chance to learn something new is essential to their ideal job (Hilgers, 2023).

Recognizing the prominent desire for growth, the panel discussed unique examples of training programs and mentorships. In doing so, they noticed not only higher individual satisfaction but an increase in overall productivity.

Highly engaged employees are 75% less likely to leave if we are engaging with them and we are communicating with them. We’re trying to engage the employee more so they can dictate their path or communicate their path a little bit better.
– Haylee VanScoy, Heritage Cooperative
Be transparent. Say, “Hey, if you want to move up, this is where you’re going to learn to do it.”
– Jason Worthington, MFA Inc.

Unlock a satisfying & productive workplace

Technology seems to be the elephant in the room looming over leadership, but the RIGHT tools actually make retailers a more attractive place to work. Having a good tech stack makes employee’s lives easier, helps them be more effective, and thus more profitable.

And, for those younger generations, it’s even more important for ag retailers to set themselves apart since 91% use technology to determine their next job (Yates, 2023).

It’s all about efficiency and reducing how many times somebody has to touch something. Technology takes the person who is doing low-value work and allows them to invest time in more valuable roles or spending time with our customers.
– Jeff Crissinger, NuWay-K&H Cooperative
One of the main benefits of having good digital tools is the time back they offer. Across the AgVend Partner Network, retailers see a 30% increase in efficiency allowing their teams to focus on high-value activities.

Keys to success today & tomorrow

Navigating the transition between seasoned veterans and new talent is vital for organizational continuity and employee retention. AgVend’s platform offers streamlined processes that empower teams to bridge generational gaps – fostering transparency, and an excellent customer experience while also boosting employee engagement and retention.

The gap between our five-year or less people coming in and our 25 plus year people getting ready to retire–how do we manage that relationship moving forward and how do we continue being able to service our customers and the ability that we need to and not have to start from square one? AgVend has helped streamline those processes.
– Haylee VanScoy, Heritage Cooperative
Bringing AgVend on helps give more transparency on some of those key metrics, holding our team more accountable on things they can engage and seek improvement on.
– Jason Worthington, MFA Inc.
Despite the labor issue facing the industry, there is no doubt that the resilient ag retail sector will continue to rise to the challenge, embrace technology, and find innovative opportunities to fuel the future of ag.

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