Red Robin, our producer and industry insider, on how we can attract more people to the pig industry.
We have reached a point where the pig price is heading in the right direction which is an enormous relief for all of us, caused partly by a large reduction in pig numbers in the UK.
The consequence of that reduction, one would think, is that there would be some very good stock people looking for jobs, but that sadly seems not to be the case. Having had a stable team for more than 10 years, we have been looking for two team members and we have had opportunities for good handover periods and a smooth transition from person to person, but that time is running out and the number of applicants has been very small.
Anybody who farms near to HS2 or to a power station being built will find that the drain on staff becomes even worse than it is now. We can automate as much as we can, but that is not without cost and we do need to have a core team for pig husbandry, which is a skilled job that requires a significant amount of training to be able to succeed.
Jobs are not all about money, although it is a crucial part of it. There are many surveys of what factors are important to Millennials and Gen Z and it is important to remember that we can offer them some of the things that matter. If we are going to be a career of choice, then an industry we must demonstrate that we are good and thoughtful employers.
I can only speak for my own business but we do have some plus points. We can definitely offer job security – once we have a settled team, we like it to stay that way. We can be flexible – while we do ask people to work alternate weekends, those hours are organised within the pig team, and we try to limit them as much as we can.
We also understand that the team have families, too, and while we don’t want them all to work completely different hours, there are opportunities to organise their day so that they can watch a school play or pick the kids up from school sometimes.
There are inexpensive things that we can do like provide a washing machine, have a Christmas party, provide hot drinks for the staff room and probably more that I haven’t thought of.
It was interesting that in our last Red Tractor inspection, we were told that performance reviews were encouraged in the pig sector. This is something we have talked about doing but I think we will have a mixed reaction.
It may be that we introduce it for new members of staff first and see how we get on. I have had a little bit of experience of them in another business and the idea is not to impose things on the individual, but more to use them as a vehicle for the team member to say what they want to achieve in the coming year that enables them to help us get to our stated business aim.
We should engage with our teams more about what they like about their workplace and what we can do better. Many bigger businesses have anonymous staff surveys which would be hard to do in a small team but there will be ways of opening the discussion.
It is hard not to take the criticism personally when it is your own business especially when sometimes we cannot afford to do the things we would really like to, but it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
It would be useful to benchmark salaries both across the industry, but also across industries with similar jobs – this would enable us to ensure we are offering competitive salaries.
I would also like to hear suggestions from people who work in the pig industry about what they would like their employers to provide. Our teams are the most important part of our business; we need to look after them and we need to find a way to attract more people to our industry.