This article is the second in a series on Seasonal Workforce Attraction and Retention.
Last issue we identified who seasonal workers were and suggested some employment practices that may attract them other than just wages. This issue we’ll identify some ways employers can grab the attention of people looking for seasonal work. We will then follow up in the next issue with suggestions how to reduce staff turnover, and to get the best productivity from those you employ. The Harvest Trail Information Service funded by the Commonwealth Government, has been operated by MADEC for almost two decades. During that time, we have seen the ups and downs of seasonal worker supply and demand, and have seen many different examples of how employers attract and retain workers. The suggestions in this series are taken from you – growers and employers across Australia who need seasonal workers. Learn from those who have succeeded.
If it was good enough for Dad…
Doing things the way they were done previously is fine if it achieves the desired results. But what if it doesn’t? Placing an ad in the Positions Vacant column of the local newspaper was once a sure-fire way to attract enquiries from people keen to work. But times have changed – for starters there is a fair chance the local newspaper no longer exists. And even where it does, do potential staff look there for jobs?
With the plethora of websites, boards and forums on the internet dedicated to putting jobseekers in touch with employers, how does anyone know which ones are safe and which ones work? And when they operate as a fee-for-service model, whether they are good value for money? Many backpackers in particular have found to their detriment, that some are poor value, some are outright scams, while others have quite sinister implications.
So, when an employer lists their vacancy, how do they know the website or app they list with does not have negative connotations with which their name and reputation becomes associated?
We’re from the Government, we’re here to help you!
It may be an amusing old line, but government agencies are very careful to ensure they ‘do no harm’. While this may create frustrating red-tape at times, it means the personal safety and security of those using government services is high on the agenda. This cannot be said for commercial apps and websites where profit is the overriding motivation. And while there are genuine online services that do the right thing, including fee-for-service ones, how does the user know if they are in the ‘safe’ category, and if they are value-for-money? The Commonwealth-funded Harvest Trail jobs board has been in existence for around two decades. It is a simple, free website that safely lists vacancies for seasonal agricultural jobs for anyone who has the legal right to work in Australia. And while the focus is on horticulture, it can service any plant-based agriculture, and also the first step in the logistics chain such as a packing shed.
Simplicity is the mainstay of the Harvest Trail website, especially for those away from the main horticulture regions such as in grain or cotton country. All it takes is a simple phone call to the 1800 062 332 free call number providing basic details of the farm wanting workers. The details of the job the employer wishes to promote are taken, and callers can be referred directly to the farm or employer almost immediately.
For those lucky enough to have a regional Harvest Trail Services office in their area, the same 1800 062 332 number can put the farm employer in touch for a no-cost personalised service to promote their vacancy and refer suitable workers.
Backpackers dominated the service pre-COVID and are starting to do so again, but other groups such as grey nomads and students also use it. The safety of being a Government controlled site, the simplicity of using it and the fact that it is free to use, attracts many enquiries from people looking for farm work. So, one job listing can generate many immediate and genuine enquiries.
Those who wish to use commercial websites can avoid issues so long as they go in with their eyes open. If a fee is charged, check whether the same jobs are listed for free on the Harvest Trail website – they often are! Looking around at other listings on the same website can also provide some clues as to how carefully those vacancies are monitored. If other jobs, including for other industries, are listed with below-legal wage offers, dodgy sounding conditions, or hidden behind foreign language descriptions, alarm bells should be ringing.
Social media has moved from being an informal, fun communication platform to THE key place where many people get their information. The commercial world definitely knows this and uses social media to promote services. And once again that includes the good, the bad and the ugly. Unfortunately, users often view the messages placed in front of them as if sent by trusted friends, even if they are not.
Aware of the youthful age of many harvest labour participants, especially international travellers, the Harvest Trail Service also reaches out using social media.
Vacancy listings and helpful information such as updates on changes to workplace and visa information or major weather alerts are all provided.
The formerly fruitful action of going direct to a pool of backpackers staying at working hostels in horticulture regions has gotten a little harder. For almost two years COVID-19 halted the free flow of backpackers, and for a while even Aussies couldn’t cross state borders. This led to many hostels reluctantly closing their doors, some never to reopen, while others have been repurposed for other uses. Some have switched to providing longer-term accommodation for PALM workers, reducing or excluding budget beds for other workers.
So, while calling the local hostel to ask for available workers may still be an option for some, the choices are now reduced. For farms which have a good relationship with hostels this can be a source of available workers, but employers need to bear in mind the imperative to check the work rights of those making themselves available. The Government’s free VEVO system is available to do so. Just because they say they are legal to work doesn’t make it so and penalties for employing people without work rights are severe!
One of the services regional Harvest Trail offices provides to employers is to check work rights for the employers before referring workers, and they often have great working relationships with local hostels.
The light at the end of the tunnel…
As the pool of labour for seasonal work rebuilds, especially with the continuing return of working holidaymakers, employers will soon find that the labour shortages of the past few years will be no more. But the age-old dilemma of how to find and attract them to their particular farm or packing shed returns.
How to find your Harvest Trail Information service
The Harvest Trail Information Service looks after regions without a local office, can assist to direct enquiries to the regional offices where there is one, or provide other support.
Phone 1800 062 332
Social media Facebook – @harvesttrailinformationservice
Instagram – @harvesttrailinformationservice
Twitter – @HTIS_HQ Tik Tok – @htis_2022
Regional Harvest Trail Services offices can be found here.