Released October 29, 2008
HEREFORD, Texas – The Texas AgriLife Extension Service has created the Agricultural Workforce and Community Development Program to address one of the key issues identified at the High Plains Livestock 2027 Conference.
Worker retention through communications and training, as well as the ability of employees and their families to become active participants in the local communities, are absolutely crucial to the vitality and continued growth of High Plains livestock production, said Pete Gibbs, AgriLife Extension associate director for Agriculture, Natural Resources and Community Economic Development.
“The livestock industry’s labor issue is multi-faceted,” said Robert Devin, AgriLife Extension program coordinator, Agricultural Workforce and Community Development. “Employers are concerned with finding and retaining qualified workers. Among the barriers are language, technical skills and education.
“Our project’s goal is to address not only the employee and job-related issues, but also the family and life-related issues,” Devin said.
The conference held in late 2007 brought together representation from all confined livestock operations to identify and address the issues that would affect their operation over the next 20 years, Gibbs said.
The size and scope of High Plains livestock production, and the economic impact of beef, dairy and swine production on local communities is the driving force behind the workforce initiative, he said.
This major initiative will directly contribute to a safe, affordable and consistent supply of food for citizens across the nation, Gibbs said.
AgriLife Extension is working with major industry groups such as the Texas Cattle Feeders Association, Texas Association of Dairymen and the Texas Pork Producers Association to deliver programs that address the needs of these complex production-agriculture systems.
Devin will oversee the pilot project aimed at the labor force in six feed yards in Deaf Smith, Dallam, Hartley, Hansford and Sherman counties and a dairy in Lamb County. The pilot will continue through August, at which time it will be evaluated for widespread application.
In addition to Devin, AgriLife Extension has hired Amalia Mata, AgriLife Extension family and consumer sciences program assistant, to work with family issue programming in Hereford, and ?Genaro Lucio, AgriLife Extension animal science program assistant, to work with employee training at all locations.
The pilot program has five basic components:
-- An executive management program to develop confined livestock operation management expertise in areas related to retention, human-resource recruitment and management of a diverse workforce.
-- On-site workforce training programs by AgriLife Extension specialists that provide workers with targeted training opportunities to enhance skills based on employer needs.
-- A longer-term vocational workforce program conducted with agriculture science teachers and/or community colleges to prepare individuals to enter the workforce.
-- A family and youth educational program designed and conducted by AgriLife Extension agents to assist workers and their families become more integrated into the community.
-- Analysis and support related to community impacts.
Lucio said because of the language barrier in some cases, there is a lot of knowledge that the Hispanic workers are not getting.
“By going out to them, we are able to help the employee understand better why they have to do what they were asked to do,” he said. “It’s making a difference, because now they are looking for us when we show up. Basic understanding is what they are looking for.”
He said both on-the-job and life issues are coming up. Workers may question why they have to sign off on some things and double-check others. Lucio said he explains to them how what one employee does affects the next employee.
Ted McCollum, AgriLife Extension beef cattle specialist in Amarillo, developed a five-part program that helps the employees understand how their job and the work they do is important to beef safety and quality assurance, Devin said.
“Once we complete this initial module, we’ll evaluate its success with the managers and develop other on-site training modules,” he said.
Other issues initially identified by managers include cattle handling, mill management, equipment maintenance and recognition of health issues in cattle in the feedlots, Devin said.
Issues identified in dairies are recognizing calving difficulties, injection-site issues and cattle handling. Oversight of these issues is being handled by Ellen Jordan, AgriLife Extension dairy specialist in Dallas.
“In the long run, we hope it will show them how important they are for whatever they do and that their job matters to that company,” Lucio said. “Keeping the employee happy helps the overall company.”
Other events for employees and their family members include a series of educational program events associated with financial literacy and management, as well as college – either for themselves or their children – health issues, computers, school and budgeting.
“We did a survey with general subjects we thought might be issues,” Mata said. “We found they want computer knowledge. Also, in talking to managers, we thought budgeting would be high, but the employees said education for themselves and their children was most important.”
The families want to know more about high school programs that could enhance their children’s education toward college or a technical program, she said. That includes planning when the children are in junior high so they know what classes to take entering into high school.
Mata said because participation in the educational programs is key, and the idea is still foreign to most of the families, she’s started a “bonus bucks” program. Individuals attending classes will earn bucks that later can be used to purchase items donated to the program.
Dawn Watson, AgriLife Extension family and consumer science agent in Deaf Smith, said one of the needs the program has brought to light is the services offered by the school may not be understood by the Spanish-speaking families.
“They don’t know how to access the services,” Watson said. “In many cases, the kids are the translators for them and sometimes they don’t tell them everything or they don’t understand.
“We’ve also found that even though things are offered, it may be the location that keeps them from accessing them,” she said. “They may be intimidated by going to the library, but would be more comfortable attending a meeting on their own turf.”
Contacts: Robert Devin, 806-677-5600, firstname.lastname@example.org
Amalia Mata, 806-364-3573, email@example.com
Genaro Lucio, 806-364-3573, firstname.lastname@example.org