October 11, 2021 at 5:52 p.m.

Rethinking employee training

Hagevoort offers new strategies during World Dairy Expo seminar
Dr. Robert Hagevoort, New Mexico State University
Dr. Robert Hagevoort, New Mexico State University

By Abby [email protected] | Comments: 0 | Leave a comment

MADISON, Wis. – As dairy farms grow and rely more heavily on employees, the goal of getting the best return from cows still needs to be met. Dr. Robert Hagevoort explained what happens when cow managers become people managers and provided strategies to meet common goals during the seminar, “Practical Employee Management Strategies” Sept. 30 at World Dairy Expo in Madison.
Hagevoort is a nutritionist by trade and has worked for New Mexico State University for the past 15 years in a consultant role. He has seen a lot of performance metrics for cows – analysis of nutrition, reproductive health and economic factors. However, there are virtually no metrics pertaining to workforce.
“We’ve got the cow part down, what about the human part?” Hagevoort said.
To look closer at the human metrics, Hagevoort described the landscape of today’s dairy trends. Dairies are larger today than they were 15 years ago and typically employ one person for every 100 cows. These employees are also not always family members. They are more likely to be foreign-born and therefore hired based on willingness to work rather than skill. Therefore, they are not always the most experienced.
Hagevoort saw a gap in employee development on farms. The large dairies he worked with grew because the managers were good with cows. When the farms grew, however, the cow managers became people managers and there were gaps in both manager and employee development.
To help him understand the human side of things, Hagevoort worked with Dr. Dave Douphrate who has a doctorate in occupational health and safety.
Together, Hagevoort and Douphrate have developed more effective training for large dairies. They looked at the personality traits of managers and found them to lack the soft skills necessary for human management.
Hagevoort also looks down the road and predicts that for every one employee, there will likely be 200 cows. There will be fewer employees and more automation. This means manual labor no longer equals a low skill set. Employees will need to be a highly specialized with higher skill sets.
To properly train employees, Hagevoort and Douphrate looked at the employee demographic of the dairies Hagevoort works with. They found many employees on large dairies do not have an agriculture background and possess a fifth grade education or lower. There also tends to be a high turnover rate, which diminishes the effectiveness of training.
Hagevoort also discovered there was a third demographic at play. While giving one training in Spanish, he noticed a worker translating to a group of people. When he asked what he was translating, it came to light that these were in fact indigenous people, and they did not speak Spanish. Instead, they spoke K’iche, which is a Mayan language. This language was used by people who grew up in the countryside and did not go to school. It is also not a written language. Translating the training to Spanish did not help these people. They also did not like to be referred to as Hispanic. There was an entire language and culture barrier impeding the effectiveness of training.
This was resulting in a lot of learned behavior on farms instead of trained behavior. When people do not understand the training, they adapt by mimicking the behaviors around them.
“We found that we don’t need more training, we need more effective training,” Hagevoort said.
One thing Hagevoort realized was the timing of his trainings was not well planned. They were bringing employees in around 10 a.m. and talking to them for an hour or more.
“These guys had already worked since 4 or 5 or 6 that morning, maybe in the cold or the wet. Come in around 10 a.m. and after about 20 minutes the room is sleeping. This is reality. How effective is that training?” Hagevoort said.
In the training Hagevoort and Douphrate developed, they used the correct language and offered more hands-on opportunities. Hagevoort said it is difficult to teach a cow’s point of balance on a video, and it is important to get out in the pen and show them what a flight zone is. They relied less on written standard operating procedures.
Hagevoort emphasizes the power of recognition. Oftentimes, the employees he was training had never received a certificate for training before. When they were able to understand the training and put it to practical use, but also receive recognition for it, they were extremely proud and more willing to use the knowledge they had obtained.
Hagevoort also discovered a lot of the employees knew what to do by learned behavior, but did not know why they were doing it. Effective, hands-on training also helped to bridge the gap between what to do and why its done.
Hagevoort anticipates more training to have a positive relationship with animal welfare. The more trained people working with animals are, the fewer injuries and accidents are likely to happen.
“Animal welfare is an outcome. It is the positive outcome of an interaction between a human and an animal,” Hagevoort said.
Hagevoort insists cows have a better memory than people realize. When a cow has a bad experience, she will remember and recognize that person and it will likely lead to more bad outcomes, leaving the employee frustrated.
“Frustration is the perfect set-up for the wrong outcome,” Hagevoort said.
When people are working with animals, they need to understand the right way to behave around them and why. The outcome will be better results for the animals and the employees taking care of them.


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