Getting new workers off to a good start pays off for hog operation

The cost of a trainer and a five-week employee orientation is far less than having to continually replace workers, says HyLife official

Anyone running a hog operation of any scale today knows the value of labour.

Richard Taillefer, director of sow and nursery production for HyLife, a large hog production operation headquartered in La Broquerie, Man., told delegates at the recent Banff Pork Seminar in actual dollar terms how much employee retention means to their company.

HyLife, which produces 1.4 million hogs annually in Canada and the U.S., says the cost of employee turnover is 50 per cent of annual income for less experienced employees and as much as 100 per cent or more of experienced employees.

Faced with higher turnover than they wanted, company officials addressed the issue by hiring a full-time staff trainer. That kick-started an entirely new approach to dealing with employees beginning with how they are hired to every experience they had from their first day on the farm.

Starting a new job on a hog farm can be intimidating, said Taillefer. Finding the way to work the first day down country roads, often in the dark, following sometimes obscure directions is one example. Following strict biosecurity requirements such as showering into a facility with staff arriving for the day is another example.

Today, HyLife has completely revamped its approach and that has reduced employee turnover by roughly 32 per cent, said Taillefer. The advantage of a trainer is that training is more systematic and a more detailed experience for employees. It relieves pressure on staff to do the training, and it doesn’t interfere with production as much. And the employee is more comfortable.

For example, the Day 1 experience for new staff that have no experience sees the trainer meet the new employee off site and drive them to the facility. Arrival is planned so it doesn’t occur when staff are starting their shift.

Biosecurity is covered and barn entrance protocols are explained. New employees are introduced to staff and management one person at a time. New workers will watch a video and have details of where they are working explained. Then they will have a five-week training experience for each aspect of hog production.

Experienced staff would have the same treatment except that their training time would be shortened to one week.

Not everyone is in the position to hire a full-time trainer, but the HyLife experience shows the importance of training generally, said Taillefer.

He recommended taking time to train employees, emphasizing details so they know what is important, clearly set out expectations, answer questions, and then follow up afterwards.

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