Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Training is key to retaining staff

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An experienced farm manager is determined to be part of the solution for training new entrants to dairy.
Angela Strawbridge, now an Agricademy licensee, says it’s a struggle for farmers to find the time and energy to train new people themselves.
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This article first appeared in our sister publication, Dairy Farmer.

As the manager of a dairy farm, Angela Strawbridge knows all too well how difficult it is to find good staff, and to train and keep them in the sector, an issue facing dairy farmers across New Zealand.

The experienced manager is determined to be part of the solution for training new entrants to dairy, and has signed up to be a licensee for Agricademy, the rural training organisation that is both online and on farm.

Strawbridge has long been passionate about dairying, and says school leavers and people keen to retrain or get outside and into a new sector have lots of opportunity to get ahead if they put the work in. 

“The pay is good, you can go from being a relief milker to a dairy assistant to contract or share milking, managing, and even to owning part of a farm, so it can be a great career for the right person,” she says.

Strawbridge says up until now training has been left to farmers or managers, who are pushed for time and have so much else to do. 

“It’s a struggle to train new people – they get on farm and you spend a day or two with them, but then you get busy, and you have to get onto other tasks so there’s no one really training them to be at the level where they need to be, and their skill set is not good enough so everyone loses.”

Strawbridge says they can get qualifications but that means having to go off farm and new entrants need training first, using online and on-farm trainers to develop skills quickly.

“That’s why I like what Agricademy has to offer – they’ve got the online training videos which are task-focused and they’re going to get that hands-on training by trainers coming to the farms, and that’s what needs to happen.”

The courses are designed for relief milkers and dairy assistants to quickly improve their skills.

Strawbridge herself started as a relief milker and calf rearer in Norsewood and was part of a team running a two-farm 1,200-head herd. Then, with three children in tow, she and her partner moved to the smaller farm to become share milkers.

In shifting to the Manawatū, her focus became more about running a business, and she has spent the past five years as the manager of a Hopkins dairy farm.

She won the 2018 Manawatū Dairy Manager of the Year title, raising her profile and becoming better known. In the same year, Strawbridge joined Dairy Women’s Network and is now a DWN hub leader for the lower North Island.

Becoming an Agricademy licensee is the next step in her dairy career, she says.

“When I was training all these new people, five in one go, I could see there was a gap there – that someone needed to come in and do the training so these relief milkers have that one-on-one time and a mentor.” 

Late last year, DWN linked up with Agricademy, which had invested in creating training videos to appeal to the online generation, and was signing up licensees to develop the on-farm training for practical skills.

“I thought it was a perfect opportunity, it was exactly where I wanted to go. The time is now to fill that gap, not waiting any longer, and Agricademy is the way to do it,” says Strawbridge.

Agricademy managing director Alister Shennan says Strawbridge will make a difference. 

“Leaders like Angela with the passion and experience, combined with our training and delivery model, can make a big difference quickly in their local farming community. We look forward to more leaders like Angela stepping up to make an impact throughout New Zealand,” Shennan says. 

Strawbridge will be working in her local community to find and train new entrants.  

“I know so many students that are keen to get onto farms and into dairy, and I’ll be talking to farmers who I know are interested in training to build a network to support that. 

“If employees are not having to go off farm to learn and they have our trainers on farm, they’ll see the benefits.  Farmers are not having to use their own time to put the training in, they can carry on doing their job, while we’re doing the training for them, which makes so much sense.”

Disclaimer: Dean Williamson, CEO of AgriHQ, is an Agricademy shareholder

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