Is employee training educating the uneducated?

Employee training is increasingly important as farming gets more computerized and information drives decisions. Are your employees up to it?

With all the emphasis on employee development, has anybody considered the education level of many of the people who come looking for a job? Even as the education level of farm owners is rising, it is often apparent that the opposite may be true of farm employees.

Farm employment ads rarely list an educational requirement and job seekers at the farm don’t often tout their degrees as a reason to be hired. You may even have an employee or employees that would be considered illiterate, unable to read. How much can you expect them to learn?

Indeed, a recent survey of Hispanic dairy farm employees in New York was conducted by Maloney, et. al. in 2016. The education level of the employees was one of several descriptors surveyed. In this study of 205 Hispanic employees, 43 percent of the workers had no more than eight years of education. Another 52 percent had 9-12 years of education. Clearly, in this population, formal education was lacking. It may be a similar story with local employees.

But, lack of education does not mean lack of interest in learning, lack of intelligence, or lack of ability to learn. These are important distinctions.

There are many possible reasons for a lack of education. The important point is that the education level of your employees should affect the way that you provide training and the form of your posted protocols. You need to consider training methods and protocol formats that reflect the fact that reading may not be a strength of your employees.

Many learners are visual learners. Michigan State University Extension recommends that when you train, use the “Tell them, show them, tell me, show me” method. Talk with employees about how you want something done, then, demonstrate it. Ask them to tell you how it is to be done and then have them demonstrate it to you. This way they both see it and show it, both hear it and say it.

In addition, incorporate as many pictures as possible into posted protocols. Walk employees through the steps of the protocol, linking each step with the picture and words that describe it. Have them then repeat that process and link to the protocol steps back to you.

Maybe you think of it as “dumbing down”, but I prefer to think of it as illustrating what you want. In our society, pictures are frequently used to convey meaning -Whether it is road signs, transportation signs or public bathrooms. If pictures are not available for what you want, then take pictures for your protocols.

Employees want to do things the right way. Believe in both the ability and desire of your employees to learn, whether or not they have been educated. But make sure that you are educating them at a level they can fully understand.

Lastly, education is important in reducing isolation, opening doors of opportunity, building self-confidence and helping people think through options. Consider helping your employees get a G.E.D. or receive literacy training. For those who have graduated high school, consider a benefit of providing for employees to attend community college.

When you invest in your employees, they recognize that and respond with a greater commitment to you and the business. 

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