Sergio Bórquez, vice president of Campos Bórquez, recently published on portalfruticola.com the following article on the employee retention rate in an agricultural operation.
As asparagus and grape producers in northwestern Mexico, we require a large number of field workers for temporal jobs during harvest. They migrate from the southern states such as Chiapas, Veracruz, Puebla and Oaxaca. Next, I will try to expose the importance and purpose behind retaining staff, followed by a proposed ideology to optimize it.
Different studies have showed us the projections; by 2050 we will need 70% more food while expecting a 40% water shortage and less availability of arable land and the people who work it. Efforts through various branches of the industry such as mechanization, varietal developments and ‘Big Data’ with precision agriculture are generating progress for the optimization of these resources. Unfortunately, the limitations are already accentuated today, which tells us that progress is not fast enough.
In the case of labor, it is necessary to also consider the proportional increase of fruits and vegetables in the world’s diet, which has encouraged a conversion towards these crops that require higher labor per kilo.
Is this a problem or an opportunity?
Business models that are based on the comparative advantage of accessible labor will say that it is a problem. Undoubtedly, it is a challenge for everyone. Yet, as an industry we can also foster professional and personal development at the base of the socioeconomic pyramid of our countries while forging a solid, high performance team. Strengthening this way, the resistance against the economic forces that guide rural workers towards the city and other industries such as mining and manufacturing. To achieve this, an integral approach is needed between the strategy of the company and the people who operate it.
How can we gain this approach?
The primordial thing is to be sensitive of the human being behind the worker. There is a project of life in each one of the farm workers. This project tends to focus on sustaining and developing their families, but the implications go far beyond economic remunerations. In fact, we have not found a positive correlation between the betterment of the employee and the momentous increase in salary (in addition to the already established as ‘very good’ and in the high-end of industry comparable in the region).
This is mainly due to two things. First, there is very little culture of managing budgets. Second, there are many other more severe limitations in their communities of origin like scarce access to education, health and even basic services such as drinking water, which blocks the potential of the individual.
This does not mean that the salary is not important, since a representative survey within the company showed that 93.5% of the employees in their first-year working chose Campos Borquez mainly for the salary or the type of work offered. Still, it was interesting to see how this statistic fell to 60% among re-entering collaborators. The remaining 40% mentioned ‘treatment’ by the bosses, services, facilities / lodging and social programs offered as their main reason for choosing to work with us.
In the company we have a free medical, dental and ophthalmologist clinics along a strong scholarship program that grows year after year. While these benefits promote the health of the individual and opportunities for their families, in the last two years we have worked on the next step – to improve living conditions in their home-communities. Through the Fair Trade USA certification, we have managed to work under a more inclusive scheme that not only makes the worker participate, but also the key agents of change. Therefore, the true goal becomes to empower employees so that they can then take control of the programs exercised. Who better than them will understand how to carry out their own life project?
To date we have had two success stories. One was with communities in the state of Chiapas that coordinated to building 36 houses for themselves. The other was in a village with a population of 1,300+ inhabitants in the state of Veracruz of which up to 350 collaborate in Campos Borquez. They built the supply system for the potable water of 100% of the households in the community.
While economic bonuses did not have a transcendental impact on their development, a successful empowerment, on the other hand, not only modified the life of the empowered person but also that of their family and surrounding communities as well. These achievements provide self-confidence which promotes greater capacity for learning at work and better decision-making in their lives and when educating their children. All through a dynamic of reciprocity.
This type of projects also strengthens the relationship between the communities with agricultural labor and the employer. The community can be more motivated to work with the employer, and the employer’s resources target the same communities allowing more continuity and advancement in the social projects. We currently have an Operations Coordinator from the state of Veracruz who started as an asparagus picker. He is now the one who transmits the culture and values of the company to new members.
For many years, we have managed to operate with a staff retention between 70 and 84% in a team of around 2,500 people that is rapidly growing. The greatest pride is to see that within the executives and managers of the company there are sons and daughters of the field collaborators. These examples are different ways of measuring life projects that have been harvested within the operation. More than any specific social program, it is about aligning the company’s strategy to these principles.