Talking with precision farming managers and specialists, a common concern I hear is about the dearth of capable and qualified employees in the job market.
Sure, colleges and universities are doing their best to develop the next generation of precision technician, but it’s going to take time to catch up with the current demand dealers have to effectively service farm customers.
In the meantime, where can dealers go to staff up their precision departments?
Some are looking at other dealerships, to see if they can “headhunt” for talent, while others are transitioning parts or service mechanics into primarily precision farming roles.
But there are also those dealers looking outside what might be considered the traditional recruiting channels. While walking the show floor at John Deere’s 2014 recent new product launch event in Milwaukee, I had the chance to chat with an AMS specialist from a Midwest dealership who was scouted and hired away from a U.S. Cellular store to become the primary precision specialist.
Although she had a farm background — growing up on a dairy farm — the specialist didn’t expect her career path would lead to servicing and supporting precision technology.
“It definitely took me a few weeks just to get familiar with the role, but I was willing to learn and accept the challenge,” she says. “The first year was exceptionally hard, the second year was a little easier and the third year was really good.”
What helped with the transition was certainly her familiarity with technology and customer service skills — both of which are qualities in high-demand among dealers scavenging for precision employees.
As one precision manager at the Deere event told me, “I want to find someone who I can equip with an iPhone, laptop and knowledge to go into the field and not have to worry about them calling me every 30 minutes with a question.”
Finding a precision specialist with the confidence and ambition to succeed can go a long way in developing a productive employee, even if they don’t necessarily have an intimate understanding of the hardware from the outset.
The Midwest specialist says she took the initiative to learn from other employees at the dealership who had experience working on precision equipment and sit in on training sessions.
“Farmers were pretty understanding because if I didn’t know the answer, they knew I would find it for them,” she says. “The key is it’s not how much you know, but knowing where to get the right answer for the customer.”
It will be interesting to see how recruiting practices of dealers evolve, especially as the precision business evolves toward more farm management systems, like Deere’s wireless data transfer and remote support offerings, which will undoubtedly require more software-based training than in the past for specialists.