Have you ever felt like packing it in and quitting your job to do something completely unpractical? It’s not abnormal to sometimes feel this way. After all, life’s practicalities don’t always make for life experiences and adventures. Since the pandemic, however, more people have been making the jump from salaried, secure employment to, well, something else.

During the pandemic, most of us reassessed our lives in some way. Perhaps some were on PUP (pandemic unemployment payment) and decided to upskill or go back to college. Maybe some realised, while working 100% from home, that a better work-life balance was possible. Maybe a loved one was lost to COVID, or someone had a bad case of COVID themselves and decided life is too short to work in a job they didn’t enjoy.

Whatever the reason, combined with the expanding digital world (including social media “influencers” who gave it all up to see the world, or decided to live in a mobile home with their kids, or started their dream online business) alternative lifestyle options are being created that we’ve never seen before. How are today’s employers expected to compete?

Today’s Irish employee

Tom Kennedy, HR (human resources) consultant and founding chair of CIPD Ireland, says Irish employees are our country’s greatest asset – especially when it comes to attracting direct foreign investment.“They are seen as very smart with particularly good people skills,” he says. “They are mostly third-level educated with good IT skills. Many have worked in a multinational work environment, are ambitious, job mobile and change their employer every couple of years if development opportunities do not open quickly enough for them.”

It is most definitely an employee’s market, at the moment. Attracting and retaining talent is increasingly an issue within organisations and for employers to keep up with these changes, Tom believes flexibility is key.

“Senior managers, especially those with young children, are now moving jobs because flexible working arrangements are not available from their current employer,” he explains. “This staff flexibility benefit is being flagged in many employment surveys as being more important than salary or any other staff benefit.”

All about talent

Finding the right employee for your business is so important – someone who really gets your goals, is a team player, provides quality output and has the personal drive to do their best.

Attracting talent means having the growth, offerings, workplace culture and compensation that makes your organisation attractive to potential employees. You can’t be quiet about your company’s offerings – it is important to be seen as a dynamic industry leader if you want to attract the right kind of people for your business.

Top tips

Here are Tom’s tips for attracting talent in a post-pandemic world:

  • Invest in new technology (ie digitalisation) to remove routine/repeatable work tasks.
  • Improve the business’s positive employer branding by working with third-level colleges, professional institutes or national newspapers with positive workplace stories.
  • Adopt a four-day or hybrid working model for your business (not with fixed office days, but rather fitting schedules around an employee’s personal life needs).
  • Redefine workforce culture with a greater focus on the reasons current employees decide to stay or resign to work with another employer.
  • Remove strict performance frameworks and give team leaders the autonomy to manage their teams.
  • Retaining talent

    Great, your organisation is able to attract the right kind of people. But now, how do you make sure you can keep them? Retaining talented employees is all about creating the right work environment to suit the needs of today’s extremely diverse workforce. This is no easy feat because there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Tom offers some tips here, though, which will help ensure you keep talent within your organisation.

  • Identify top talent. Ensure they are given the same opportunities as other senior management regarding working conditions.
  • Give top talent a sense of involvement in key business decisions.
  • If working 100% remotely, they may need to be pulled into a hybrid working model to ensure they don’t feel isolated or like they aren’t a key part of the team (again, as per their lifestyle needs).
  • Be transparent about the needs of your business (don’t withhold important information).
  • Provide opportunities for mentorship and growth.
  • Agree on a career path and offer fast-tracking where it is appropriate.
  • Provide opportunities for managerial experience and training.
  • Attracting and retaining the right talent isn’t just for office-type organisations. Skilled labour shortages are prevalent in many industries, including agriculture, and adapting the tips can make all the difference when trying to find employees or relief work within your farming enterprise.

    Farming requires an understanding in animal health, machinery, health and safety best practise, safe chemical use, calf care and much more. The right employee has a combination of skills and knowledge that aren’t found in most people. Skilled labourers, in this respect, should be given benefits and recognition for the essential role they play within agriculture.

    John Brosnan.

    John Brosnan works in new business development and farm service management at Farm Relief Services (FRS). He believes the lack of opportunity for growth in agriculture is just one of the driving factors of the employee shortage within the sector.

    “The economy has been successful. Last week it was quoted, I think, at 4.8% unemployment – which is effectively full employment,” he says. “That means there are fewer people looking for work. Another unintended consequence of a successful economy is the rate of participation of third-level education has gone up dramatically, so there’s fewer people, again, available to work in manual jobs.”

    Work all year

    Attracting and retaining talent within agriculture has challenges that are unique to other industries. One of these is the seasonality of the work. When farm relief is needed, it is generally during peak times. John wants to see farmers invest in farm relief operators to encourage them to stay in the industry.

    “Our operators can move into other sectors and get year-round employment without the peaks and troughs in terms of working hours,” he explains, “rather than 50 hours a week in the spring and then struggling to get 20 hours a week in November and December. The seasonality is a huge factor and then the availability and the skills.”

    FRS generally employs two types of farm relief operator: younger people in the early stages of their career who desire experience, and others who have their own farm and are looking to supplement their income.

    “There are fewer of those nowadays but we’re always delighted to see them because they have the skills and they enjoy the work,” John says.

    To retain the talent coming into agriculture, farmers need to change their mindset around the idea of only needing workers during peak seasons. They also need to match their expectations with the modern-day labour market. Providing operators with an average of 40 hours per week throughout the year is key, as many skilled operators will leave the industry during the off-season due to a lack of work.

    There is a learning curve there in terms of rostering and how to communicate; to be clear and concise in your instructions, to be clear about your expectations, to not expect people to always do things in exactly the same way as yourself

    “There is plenty of work to be done during the off-season,” John says. “Even to give them 10-15 hours – if it balances out at a 40-hour week across the year, they’re going to earn the same amount anyway.

    In terms of expectations, we’re trying to spread our operators a bit thinly at the moment to try and make everybody, at least, a little bit happy,” he continues. “That means instead of someone getting five days of relief a week, they might get three or four days while someone else gets two. If we get our farmers to change their routines to be able to better balance their peak times, it will help them manage their budget to help afford workers in the off-season.”

    Many farmers have never been an employee or an employer, so it’s important to upskill slightly in this area, in some cases.

    “There is a learning curve there in terms of rostering and how to communicate; to be clear and concise in your instructions, to be clear about your expectations, to not expect people to always do things in exactly the same way as yourself,” John says.

    “The other stuff, the basics – like having handwashing facilities, canteen and toilet facilities – seem like small things but they mean a lot,” he adds. “Appreciating the help and thanking operators for what they do are all things that matter. Improving the attractiveness of the industry is really important because the industry might have a bit of a reputation for how they treat employees compared to other sectors. Of course, this is not the case in every situation, some farmers are excellent employers.”

    John stresses that for FRS to be able to attract and retain the right skilled labour for their farms, farmers have to treat them well and provide them with the hours and opportunities needed to stay in the job.

    Read more

    Human resources: learning to live (and work) with Long COVID

    Post-pandemic Ireland: where are we with remote working?