As dairies across the world continue to grow in size to capture economies of scale and remain sustainable from a business standpoint, the need for additional labor is an inevitable fact. That of course holds true unless you replace labor with precision technology and robots. Robotic milking and feeding at a very large scale is still a daunting reality from an organizational, technical, and economic perspective.

In listening to producers across the world when discussing their challenges, the issue of obtaining qualified, well-trained labor is almost universal. Labor in many areas is immigrant labor and increasingly from a nonagricultural background with limited or no experience in working with large animals or large equipment.

That wasn’t always the case. Training and development was traditionally done within the family unit on the farm over time.

Within the industry, little emphasis has been placed on the development of programs for on-the-job training. High turnover rates certainly complicate this challenge. Consultants typically play a key role in these training efforts, but a common concern is the effectiveness of this training if it is not consistent, repetitive, and comprehensive. Oftentimes the training is focused on the “what” to do and not the “why” or the comprehension part. The actual trainers may not completely understand the “why” themselves: How do you explain synchronization protocols without explaining the specifics of biology of reproduction? Superimposed on those difficulties are the cultural and linguistic challenges.

At the end of the day, the question is how effective my training program is and how do I evaluate that? How do I measure the impact of that training? What specific metrics indicate to me that my employees truly understand why they are doing what they are doing, and is the training resulting in better production, reproduction or herd health?

For example, SCC (somatic cell count) is a very poor metric of training effectiveness because it depends on too many variables. From a safety standpoint . . . did I actually improve safety awareness and culture on my farm as a result of the training?

Bottom line, just training for training’s sake is only checking the box. We need to find ways to make the time worthwhile and make workforce development more effective.

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The author is an extension dairy specialist and associate professor at New Mexico State University Ag Science Center in Clovis.

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(c) Hoard's Dairyman Intel 2016
October 3, 2016

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