Feed your employees’ desire to learn

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Developing employees is critical for the success of any farm. We say that, but do we believe it?

New products, technologies and practices are changing rapidly on dairy farms, and we know an employee development program will enable them to make better decisions and solve problems.

But do employees really want to learn?

Desire to learn

Results of a survey recently released show that employees do want to learn! Michigan State University interviewed 174 dairy farm employees representing 13 farms.

Employees were asked to rate their interest in learning. A scale of 1 (“I already know enough to do my job”) to 5 (“I am interested in dairy and I want to learn more”) was used. The average was 4.73.

In other words, they nearly unanimously selected 5: “I am interested in dairy and I want to learn more.”

What do you think farm owners and managers believed employees would answer? Using the same scale, they rated employee interest in learning at 3.27. This is a much different ranking when compared to the one provided by employees.

What does this mean? Which picture is truer? Do employees really want to learn or were they just saying what they thought the interviewer wanted to hear?

These are not meaningless questions; in fact, the extent and investment by farm owners in employee training depend on the answer. Employers have been reluctant to believe the results based on their own experience.


Maybe their experience is a result of poor training methods, an incorrect approach, or poor timing.

Two veterinarians recently shared examples that strongly reinforce the results of this research. On one farm a graduate student (also a veterinarian) was gathering data for a research project. She described how employees asked her to teach them more about disease diagnosis, treatment, and why and how diseases occur.

She scheduled a time to go back to talk to the employees about the transition period. She planned to be there no more than 1.5 hours, but (because of the questions) was at the farm for three hours!

A second veterinarian reported on the results of a lunch meeting with employees from one farm. The veterinarian anticipated being with the group for no more than one hour.

He reported being with the group for two hours because of the number of questions from the employees! Why do the experiences of these veterinarians, and the results of the research, differ from what some dairy producers experience?

Maybe the answer is in what the veterinarians indicated. Here are some key points:

  • Attitude. The veterinarians believed employees wanted and were capable of learning, and they wanted to help them.
  • Language. They were able to speak the same language of the employees.
  • Time. They made time to meet with the employees.
  • Why. They explained cow physiology, “why” things happen, and “why” protocols are as they are. There may be other reasons, but the point is to recognize the desire most employees have to learn.

Feed that desire and your employees will respond. Maybe you schedule time one day a week for a “dairy talk time” with your employees.

Any topic is available for discussion or let employees suggest a topic in advance. Create an environment where learning is encouraged and you will gain employee loyalty and satisfaction.


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