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What will feed mill employees of the future look like?

Adam Fahrenholz, associate professor of feed milling at North Carolina State University, discusses the hiring challenges facing feed mills.

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Adam Fahrenholz of NC State University discusses the evolving hiring pool at the Feed Mill of the Future Conference during IPPE

Where will feed mills of the future get their employees and what types of workers will those employees be? This is the challenge that Adam Fahrenholz, associate professor of feed milling at North Carolina State University, addressed at the Feed Mill of the Future Conference at the International Production and Processing Expo (IPPE) in Atlanta on January 24.

“Where are we going to find our workforce? And then how are we actually going to go about developing them, knowing that a lot of them probably aren’t going to come in hitting the ground, ready to go, knowing everything about what we do in the feed mill?” Fahrenholz said.

Compared with perhaps 20 years ago, new feed mill employees are coming from a wider range of backgrounds, experiences and skill sets. There will certainly still be employees who are hired from within the company and work their way up through the ranks. But other potential hires might transfer over from other industries, such as human food or pet food. And other new hires may have previously been students.

“It can be people coming out of associate’s programs, people with bachelor’s degrees, it can be people with advanced degrees. But regardless, there will be some people that we will be hiring into our facilities that the last thing they were doing was being in a classroom. They weren’t working somewhere. They were in a classroom, they were learning and now they’ve come in and this is their job, right. And they will require a different type of development as well,” Fahrenholz said.

And, he added, while some of these new hires will come to the industry with some experience of being in and around feed mills, others will not.

But regardless of their backgrounds, feed mill employees of the future will need to be able to work “together, side by side for the rest of the shift and tomorrow and the day after that. So we know that they need to have an understanding of things like conflict resolution, how to work as a team, how to communicate,” Fahrenholz said. “And that gets us into the soft skills, which is the same sort of thing. Can they write? Can they read things critically, and then make decisions about what they need to do? Can they work with other people in a communicative way?”

Hiring pool evolves quickly

Just as rural areas may be developed into something more urban in just a few years, the hiring pool evolves quickly, Fahrenholz said.

For example, the hiring pool at a mill when it was built 20 years ago might look very different than it does today.

“I built this feed mill 20 years ago, and when I built it, it was a complete rural environment. And since then, it’s not so rural anymore because there’s been spread and now it’s a much more urban environment. My hiring pool is now a different hiring pool than it was 20 years ago. And if I try to hire people the same way that I did 20 years ago, I probably would fail,” he said.

New employees’ skills are at a premium and feed mills need to invest in their employees to retain them and help them grow.

“We tell that to students all the time. Somebody doesn’t hire you and pay you this so they can get exactly that amount out of you. They’re hoping that they pay you this and you bring them back to the company that plus 10% That’s the goal. And so we need to invest in the same way,” Fahrenholz said.

Training is key to developing employees, he added, and there are several ways to do that, including practical, on-the-job training; on-demand video training; and actual coursework. Each of these options might work better with one employee than another, he said.

Feed Mill of the Future Conference was presented by Feed Strategy and Feed & Grain magazines.

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