COLUMNISTS

Recruiting, retaining good labor starts with investing in our young people: Radke Report

Amanda Radke
The Radke Report
Radke

“Good help is hard to find.” “Nobody wants to work anymore.” “Why are kids so tuned out and lazy these days?”

These comments seem to be the constant complaints these days, as retailers, restaurants, grocery stores, and other businesses struggle to recruit and retain employees.

In agriculture, this issue is particularly troubling as labor is a huge factor in so many facets of America’s agricultural industry — from running dairies, to hand-picking and harvesting crops, to working in processing plants — we need good people to keep our food system secure.

Labor shortages escalated during the pandemic, leaving many of our major infrastructures in the supply chain vulnerable and lacking the employees needing to move food and other products along.

Justin Ferguson, Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation federal affairs coordinator, recently wrote on this issue saying, “Take a moment to think back to April 2020. The U.S. was one month into the COVID-19 pandemic, and consumers across the country were panic buying all the necessities they could get their hands on. This fear stemmed from the thought there would not be enough food and people would go hungry.

“The lack of products on grocery store shelves was not because farmers stopped growing crops and raising livestock to provide a food source for the country. It was because every step of the supply chain lacked the labor needed to keep up with the demand.”\

Meanwhile, according to Purdue University, there are 59,400 job openings in agriculture annually, and 40% of those go unfilled.

This column isn’t meant to get into the political challenges we face in agriculture, especially in regards to the labor issues. Instead, I wanted to talk about how our industry can truly focus on presenting the opportunities in agriculture to new talent, and helping these young people find their place in the food and agricultural sector.

Now, I’m not a big corporate CEO, but as a ranch mom of four, I’m the CEO of our family, alongside my husband, Tyler. Much like any business, it takes a lot of hands and good help to keep things humming along, especially in this season of life where our children are so young, and we both have off-farm jobs that require much of our attention.

In recent years, we have hired high school and college students to fill in the gaps, and, although it’s taken some trial and error to get the right team around us, I feel like we finally have a solid crew that is accountable, trustworthy, skilled and proficient at the jobs we present them with.

The saying, “Good help is worth it’s weight in gold,” is true, and I’m forever grateful for the employees we have helping to run our multiple businesses.

From a mom’s perspective, I look at these young people, and I’ve started taking notes on what the true and tangible life skills these kids have and what would be most valuable and marketable in the workplace. Raising four kids of my own, these are traits are critical to focus on, and somehow I feel like our culture has maybe lost sight of what it takes to embed these skillsets into our young people.

What I’ve realized is programs like 4-H and FFA, which teach real-world skills in agricultural applications, truly set kids up for future careers with the foundational experiences they can utilize in almost every career. These programs provide opportunities for kids to try new things, gain new skills, and network with folks in the industry.

Of course, raising kids on a farm or ranch provides the best chance to learn the value of hard work, responsibility, showing up each day, and getting the job done. That, combined with ample family time that the agricultural setting provides, is what makes a winning combination that makes farm kids the most desirable employees.

So how do we recruit and retain these talented young people? I think it starts by offering these kids a pathway for success into this industry we love. It starts by helping to open doors and create new opportunities. And it lasts by enveloping these kids into the culture and your family, by truly making them a part of the business and the community.

Yes, there are labor shortages around the country. And yes, these problems will continue as the demands of feeding a hungry planet grow. However, I think the best way to get ahead of these challenges is to invest our time in raising the next generation that truly knows how to work and who takes pride in what they do. It starts with you and me investing our time into our nation’s kids.

Are we preparing them for the real world and all that faces them? That’s the key question we must ask.

Amanda Radke is a fifth-generation rancher from Mitchell who has dedicated her career to serving as a voice for the nation’s beef producers. A 2009 graduate of South Dakota State University with a degree in agricultural communications, education and leadership, Radke is a blogger for BEEF Daily blog.