Dairy can’t function without employees, whether or not those employees are family members or from the community. A well-written, comprehensive job description is the first step in getting the right employee for the job.
Penn State Dairy educator Dr. Lisa Holden says for dairy farmers, time is an issue when it comes to creating job descriptions for positions on their farms, but those job descriptions are important in defining roles and responsibilities. “All the tasks that need to be done daily, weekly and monthly on the dairy farm get divided up and sometimes get jumbled up,” she said. “Job descriptions and categorizing roles better can help with overall organization.”
Job descriptions are also important when it comes to training new employees or retraining existing employees. Having a job description in place tells employees what they are supposed to be doing. “When we combine that with standard operating procedures (SOP), that tells them ‘how’ they’re supposed to be doing things,” she said. “The job description along with the SOP is a great training tool for new employees and also a great reminder tool for existing employees.”
A job description also helps maintain a professional image for a dairy farm. Farms often maintain a somewhat informal atmosphere, but the employee/employer relationship is more professional when a good job description is in place. Holden says if a job opening is posted along with a good job description, there’s a better chance of drawing a larger pool of qualified applicants.
“The last thing, and one we hope we don’t need on our dairies, is potentially for defense,” said Holden. “In the event of terminating an employee, or if there’s legal action as the result of that termination, one of the things that can be helpful is having a written job description.” Holden suggests employers consult an attorney for this aspect of the job description.
It’s important that job titles accurately reflect and define the job. Holden says when people are out in their community, discussions often center around employment, and someone being able to state that their job title is ‘calf specialist’ or ‘night milker’ is far more desirable than ‘hired hand’. “Titles are important,” she said. “That’s how folks define what they do and who they are, and it’s a reflection of them and of the dairy as well.”
Holden suggests that dairy farmers use Penn State University’s Job Description Generator, available online, which can assist in creating a concise, complete job description for dairy farmers. Holden says the online tool was created after meeting with a series of focus groups that included dairy farmers and dairy farm employees. “We asked them ‘what is your job, what do you do?’” she said. “We got a very comprehensive list in three different areas.”
Input came from front-line workers such as milkers, feeders and calf care workers on the dairy farm. Middle managers, who were not the farm owner but doing more than milking cows, were also included. Input also came from senior managers, who were sometimes the farm owner or a partner in the farm.
The first step in writing a job description involves analyzing the job — what will the employee be expected to do? Holden encourages employers to consider knowledge, skills and abilities, or KSAs, as they write job descriptions.
The job description will also include a few sentences that summarize the job; much like a help-wanted ad would include. Define the qualifications — what should the employee know how to do when they come to the job, and what are you (as the employer) willing to provide training for?
When considering KSAs, Holden describes knowledge as education, certifications or specialized training. In some cases, a dairy job will require the person to have certain skills, but there are often areas where the employer is willing to provide training. “Sometimes we want that with folks walking in the door depending on the type of job we have,” she said, “and sometimes we’re willing to help build that knowledge base.”
Skills are measureable — people either have a skill or they don’t. Skills such as the ability to read, write (in English and/or Spanish), drive a tractor, perform A.I. or weld are measurable skills.
Abilities are more difficult to measure, and include whether or not the person gets along well with others and can they handle working with livestock. “You have to be skilled about how you interview,” said Holden. “Applicants will want to put their best foot forward and they’re going to talk about knowledge, skills and abilities they have.”
Holden explained how the online tool works using the example of a night milker position. After filling in the farm name, address, and job title, there’s a space for a summary of the job. “The night milker is responsible for milking cows in a calm and efficient manner according to the posted SOPs,” she said, providing an example.
The job qualifications section is next, and should include a description of any experience, training or education necessary to perform the job. List physical characteristics essential to the job, such as the ability to lift /carry a certain weight. Be careful to avoid statements that may be discriminatory on basis of race, gender, age or national origin. A statement might include ‘needs to be able to read and write in English (and/or Spanish depending on operation); good with animals. Able to work as part of a milking team.’
Employees need to know where they fit in the organization. The work relationship section should clearly define the supervisor and how the worker’s position relates to other positions. Be sure that each position has only one supervisor. Job descriptions relate to the staff organization chart, and each position on the organization chart should have a job description associated with it. In the example of the night milker, the person will ‘report to herd manager.’
The description can also include baseline qualifications such as ‘employee is expected to show up for shift on time’ and ‘follow basic instructions as provided by management.’
Information on compensation and benefits can include hourly wage range, vacation, sick leave, housing, work for farm products, the use of certain equipment (such as a farm truck). Be sure to clearly specify compensation and benefits.
The work schedule and hours should also be outlined: perhaps the position requires 8-hour shifts, six days a week with every other weekend off. Define work hours and overtime as specifically as possible. If seasonal work might be part of the position, be sure to include a statement about that possibility.
Once all the fields are completed, the document can be printed and the result is a clean, professional-looking job description that includes all the details of a job. Holden reminds employers that job descriptions can become dusty over time, and should to be revised as necessary. The generator will save the date the document was created, which serves as a reminder for when a description should be updated or rewritten.
The Penn State Extension Dairy Team Job Description Generator is available on line at ahg.com:8180/PSUJobDescription/.