Coronavirus: recruitment top tips for growers

From recruiting workers to educating your workforce, we've created five top tips to help you through this challenging time.

The Coronavirus pandemic is not only affecting all areas of normal life, it has drastically reduced the availability of traditional seasonal labour for the horticulture industry – be that either foreign nationals or British Nationals moving around the country.

For the first season in a very long time, we are faced with the reality of employing many local British workers and pickers with no (or limited) horticultural experience. In the current environment, how can you ensure that you have enough workers? And when workers have been employed, how can you ensure they are prepared for a season of crop work?

Finding workers

  • Direct recruitment: Consider advertising any opportunities for work on local social media groups/local shop. Community groups on Facebook are great ways to link up with individuals who are currently out of work in the local area so would not need to worry about travel or accommodation.
  • Recruitment agencies: think about posting links to their websites in the same community groups. Finding local workers where possible would also reduce the reliance on accommodation required.
  • If you are holding interviews in person, make sure it’s clear where people need to be and what you are expecting from them during the interview.

Educating your new workforce

It's safe to assume that some of your new workforce in 2020, will be from a non-horticultural background and might have limited knowledge of horticulture as an industry.

  • Tell them more about your business /job roles required. Use your phone to make small clips of staff describing the business, work and people.
  • Remember people need to know the simple things, how long will they be expected to work, how much will they be paid, how regularly, what will the conditions be (inside/outside), how long the work will last.
  • Make sure that the video highlights the benefits to people of why they want to come and work for you. If you’re offering accommodation options, make this clear.

This is relevant for all businesses regardless of whether you recruit directly or through an agency. Raising your profile as a local business, contributing to the local economy in various ways is positive regardless of the season or pandemic status. A local community that understands you, what you do, and how you want to support the locals will be a much more supportive neighbour for years to come.

Prepare your induction process

First impressions count! It is highly likely new employees will have just lost a job and looking for some financial security. Their confidence may be low along with their horticulture knowledge, but don’t underestimate the alternative skills they have which could be beneficial to you too. And for those coming from hospitality and catering – like you, they will have just as good an insight on what a hard day’s work and unsocial hours involves. 

  • Even before staff arrive, ensure that they feel part of the team and make clear ‘what is in it for them.’ Remember that they had a choice - they could have gone (and still could go) to the local retailer. On day one, find out what motivates them as an individual in order to get the most from them. Ensure you have all paperwork and necessary forms prepared in advance and be ready for their first arrival on site.
  • Make sure everyone has been provided with detailed instructions to find you - don’t always just rely on a postcode!
  • Prepare detailed maps of the site, including toilets, rest areas and canteens etc.
  • Prepare them for the working conditions by advising necessary footwear and suitable clothing options. Even if it seems obvious to you, proving new starters with too much information is better than not enough.

Develop training aids

  • Think about your normal training resources. Do you have standard operating procedures for the main tasks performed in your business? Are they in English/use pictures/videos?
  • How do you communicate the correct way to do a job? With the technology on phones now, even the worst technophobe can make a short film of someone doing the job correctly and make this a training resource for new starters.
  • It’s a good idea to require people to watch this before they start doing a job – this way it stops them picking up any bad habits.
  • Allow people time to learn – taking time to get people into a good habit initially will pay for itself tenfold when they are out in the field and being highly productive.
  • For growers of soft fruit crops you can make use of the AHDB Champion Soft Fruit Picker video. This features best practice guidance on how to pick strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and blueberries.

Health and safety

The importance of health and safety can never be underestimated and especially not this season. There’s a strong chance that many of your new employees will never have spent time in a horticultural business before, and as such won’t be aware of the various risks and hazards on site. Our Health and Safety video is available to watch on the AHDB Horticulture YouTube, and covers all of the key areas. This can be used by any business as part of their induction process. We have a specific health and saftey video for growers of glasshouse crops, too.