Written collaboratively by Maristela Rovai and Raul Mendoza (Veterinarian from Mexico and S.D. commercial dairy herdsman).
Training Expectations: University Perspective
SDSU Extension has the purpose to foster a learning community environment that empowers citizens to advocate for sustainable change that will strengthen agriculture, natural resources, youth, families, and the communities of South Dakota. For the dairy industry, we ensure that all sources of information has direct knowledge and offer scientific-based information that is concise, easy to understand, and vetted through unbiased sources to our clientele.
SDSU Extension dairy programs provides technical training and assistance specifically designed for assisting dairy producers. A framework of strategies for best farming practices is tailored for each individual farm and their workforce, exploring various options of learning techniques to encourage comprehensive thinking, motivation to learn, curiosity and expand their knowledge. Our efforts are focused in achieving a better understanding of milk production, its importance and the broad impact of their work performance. We believe on the benefits of employee training being essential for the sustainability and success of the farming operation.
Techniques & Methods
A successful learning technique considers the understanding in how the employees we are reaching out to will process the information. The learning environment should value and engage their previous experience and basic knowledge, cultural differences and current work duties, while emphasizing on their work skills and experience. The workforce’s prior knowledge can be classified as sufficient, insufficient, accurate or inaccurate learning. For example, if I see the cow’s teats are clean it might mean I don’t need to pre-dip them. This decision is based on prior experience on cleanliness appearance and it does not reflect that we should not use pre-dip.
The extension specialist will review with producers and managers their standard operating procedures, highlight areas of excellence and identify areas that have opportunities of improvement. By having a set of goals will certainly increase job satisfaction and will increased employee motivation. The feedback on their training participation and learning achievements will also increase their willingness to improve their job performance.
Benefits & Participant Feedback
The training offers an opportunity for new employees to satisfactorily learn and understand their required faming tasks. For long term employees, trainings should update and improve their skills and knowledge. However, we are not requested to provide trainings on a regular basis due to heavy workloads and the farm’s work schedule.
An important part of our work besides offering expertise, is to try to provide trainings with an extra farm management component which could increase profits. Feedback from both the employees and managers about the training offered and the continued education will be key for its achievement.
Training Expectations: Farm Perspective
From a herdsman standpoint, the primary objective is to foster the milker’s knowledge and motivation. I consider this as very important to the understanding of the dairy farm production settings. The worker will have a better understanding of the fundamentals of each milking procedure steps we perform in the parlor. The knowledge and perception of every task executed is key for the success of the operation.
The importance for the employees in learning the reasons behind every tasks is key for achieving the best performance and consequently, an improvement of the milk quality. The consistent routine is an important outcome for the farm success and it is our daily battle. The daily routine on the dairy is very demanding. The time left for proper employees training in various subjects is limited. Usually, the training duties are often passed on to current employees who are performing similar work duties. However, current employees training new workers may not be the ideal since bad habits might be passing on; thereby compromising worker, animal, and food safety.
A great solution for the dairy is the availability of external support from commercial company’s technicians and the university extension personnel. The trainings offered from companies are great opportunities but sometimes the information topics may be distorted due to different trainers and/or trainings not being customized to suit dairy specific needs. Another drawback of offering the same training every time for new and old employees is that the last group require different approaches due to their previous knowledge. It is understandable that to analyze the farm needs or identify the gaps in performance on a regular basis by coming up with appropriate training programs is more challenging.
With the awareness of this situation, the need of choosing the same trainer, resources used and learning strategies as often as possible provides consistency. Even though having only one trainer coming to the dairy, we lack regular trainings which help us to keep the consistency and boost productivity. The effect of the training is usually short lived and last about a month where changes observed will run from better consistency in work performance, following procedures, motivation, etc.
Periodic trainings will be an additional motivational investment in acquiring the expertise and knowledge needed for dairy farming success. By not having follow-up and regular trainings we risk having a temporary basic learning period with questionable effectiveness.
Recognizing the contributions employees make to an organization will also positively help with their retention. By having long term trained and gratified employees will certainly result in better consistency, ethical behavior, and workplace morale.
Expectations & Results
When skilled workers are scarce, dairies often hire anyone available with the intent to train the workers. When the dairy hires immigrant laborers, there are problems related to basic knowledge, language and cultural barriers. By having a training program led by qualified personnel covering all the basics related to dairy farming and respecting the cultural barriers, the results are quality control, food safety, worker safety, worker retention and long term sustainability for the industry.
The expectations from the farm team (e.g producers and mid-managers) and the extension personnel are in the same direction seeking performance improvement and enhance product quality. However, we might be losing effectiveness not having producer’s feedback post-training sessions.
The trainings are designed to offer resources to accomplish something that is requested most of the time by the work place (e.g. consistency, time management, health signs). The feedback and more frequent farm visits will help to avoid vague and subjective objectives.
An excellent approach would be to have an outline of objectives by subject areas needed to be covered that will assist company’s technicians and extension specialists meet the producer’s expectations.
Developing partnerships between industry (technical support and services) and academia (extension specialists) can be an effective strategy for setting clear expectations, create a plan and achieve best results.