Employee perks and incentives can help retain hard-to-find precision farming talent.

As dealerships continue to expand their precision farming operations, finding qualified staff is a challenge.

But so too is retaining talent once it’s found.

“Turnover is terribly expensive,” says Adam Gittins, precision ag manager at HTS Precision Ag Solutions in Harlan, Iowa.

He supervises a 10-person precision staff at HTS and chatted with Precision Farming Dealer at the annual Ag Leader dealer event in early December about ways to minimize the loss of capable people.

When a precision employee leaves after six months or a year, Gittins says it’s hard to recoup the investment of time and money spent on training that person.

It’s often not until the second year or at the earliest 18-months, when he starts to see the payback.

“That first year, I’ve not gotten my money back for what I’ve put into them for training,” he says. “They see it as having worked for you the whole year, but really that first year was all training.”

While money certainly plays a role in whether a precision specialist stays or goes, one precision manufacturer notes that it’s not necessarily the primary cause of turnover.

“I’m not seeing salary as the main reason why people leave,” says the manufacturer.

Adam Gittins discusses successful hiring and retention practices for precision farming specialists and creative ways to keep employees happy in a competitive marketplace.

Relocation and seasonality of the job are factors that Gittins says contribute to early turnover.

But in addition to a competitive salary and promoting a family work environment, he says providing creative incentives is a strategy that can cultivate long-term satisfaction for employees and promote stability in a precision farming operation.

One of the ways HTS does this is by paying for a portion of their employees high-speed Internet cost at home.

“We realize that employees go home at night and use their Internet and they probably are going to use it to do some work,” Gittins says. “We can take that expense, which might only be $20-$25 a month, and they see that as a nice benefit.”

Another benefit for employees is a regular rotation for after hours precision tech support.

Gittins is one of six precision specialists that spend one week on call and then serve as back-up support for the next five.

“It’s easy to burn people out in this business,” Gittins says, “So we’ve tried to get creative on ways to not do that and rotating support has helped.”

But he acknowledges that even the most promising of hires may not stick around, which is why it’s important to develop a pipeline of talent.

HTS offers an annual internship program where students take off a semester — often during the busy season of January to May — to get experience and a sense of the work environment.

If the intern proves to be a good fit, HTS offers a full-time position after graduation, in addition to partial tuition reimbursement.

HTS has an intern starting full-time after graduation in May, and the tuition reimbursement hinges on the new hire sticking around for a specified amount of time.

“We’re either going to get our money back, or he’s going to stick with us for a couple of years,” Gittins says. “It’s important for us to keep people in the pipeline, because we’re all trying to pull talent from a pool that isn’t terribly deep.”