We asked dealers to respond to the following question: "What is one thing you wish more new employees had experience with or were trained on before their first day on the job?"
Here are their responses:
“The one thing we wish employees were trained on before their first day on the job is time management. We struggle to keep our employees’ noses to the grindstone. There is always an excuse or lack of following through on how we want to move forward both in our shop and in the office among personnel.
“On the administration side we started assigning days for specific tasks with the accountant/secretary. For example, Wednesdays are known as Warranty Wednesdays in the office. The goal is to keep the secretary busy by registering new implements sold the prior week, filing warranty claims from the shop, filing co-op claims, etc. Our biggest struggle though is in the shop and keeping service jobs prioritized and keeping workflow moving so we have sufficient billable hours every week.
“Simple common sense seems to be a scarce trait amongst the newer workforce and keeps me up at night trying to figure out more productive ways of keeping them busy without standing on top of each person. I’ve entertained incentive programs, but they seem to be more work to keep up with than what they are worth and possibly create an open door for hard feelings to develop when an employee felt they might have reached the weekly goal when they may not have. Not to mention I already pay a higher wage than most, so throwing more money at them seems to be redundant. So for now, I just keep an open eye for better personnel that may be better suited at the job openings that are developing.”
— Dusty Fussnecker, Fussnecker & Sons Tractor Sales, Ripley, Ohio
“When it comes to technicians I would especially like to see more computer training for equipment diagnostics. Too many times entry level technicians don’t know how to hook a diagnostic tool up to the equipment we service.”
— Andy Myers, Ziegler Ag Equipment, Chillicothe, Mo.
“A working knowledge of the basic concepts of operating a tractor or zero-turn mower and a good work ethic and attitude coupled with a desire to learn.”
— Dave Camp, Coblentz Equipment, Montgomery, Ala.
“It would be very helpful if we could hire new employees who immediately had customer skills and the ability to blend and work with fellow employees. We know they can do their job, but working with others, including customers, can sometimes be a challenge to teach.”
— Carl Judy, Agri-Service, Nyssa, Ore.
“New employees would be better prepared for work if they already had received previous customer service skills training. We can train them on the work related skills through mentoring, but good customer service skills shortfalls often do not crop up until you get to see the employee in action after you have hired them and they are working with your clients.”
— Doug Blades, Martin Deerline, Edmonton, Alta.
“Communication! We can find people with a good agriculture background or strong technical skills, but they often lack the polished, positive and effective communication skills to put their experience to work. Today, more than ever before, both written and verbal communication skills will be a huge part of determining the success of an employee in any position.”
— Dan Drohman, Service Motor Co., Dale, Wis.
“I think new hires today need to have a good work ethic and a willingness to learn. It is so competitive out there in the search for employees that we have found it best to train our own from the ground up so we need people who can and want to work and can and want to learn and succeed.”
— James VanRyswyk, Green Lea Ag Center, Mount Elgin, Ont.
“The one thing I would like new employees to be more well trained on is record keeping and paperwork. In this day and age, daily record keeping both manually and via computer input is just as crucial as fast and efficient service performed. I find techs who are excellent technicians, but their daily paperwork and work orders are not filled out efficiently and/or properly. This leads to backlogs in service debt billing and inefficiencies. This doesn’t just apply to service techs, I notice this with other new employees around the dealership, from all departments — sales, parts, service.”
— Name withheld by request
“We are in a Metro area and finding employees with an ‘ag work ethic’ is nearly impossible. The workforce in our area has a 40-hour week mindset and that doesn’t fit our business model. I would like to find a few highly motivated farm kids, eager to learn a good trade.
“Good techs can just about write their own paychecks today and things will only get better for them down the road as equipment becomes more sophisticated. When I started in the business 42 years ago, a young man with a little common sense and mechanical aptitude could repair most anything we were selling in those days. That is not true today. You need mechanical aptitude and common sense, but it also takes training and book smarts to be a great tech today.”
— Mike McCrate, Tulsa New Holland, Tulsa, Okla.
“Looking for qualified employees is a hard challenge. Agriculture, unlike the automotive industry (which specializes in individual systems), is all systems of the unit top to bottom and front to back with everything in between. When college graduates find out the trucking industry pays a little better, hours are better and they can specialize in one or two systems, the appeal of the agriculture industry is diminished. There seems to be a pool of technicians out there but qualified ones are in short supply. In this industry, it takes a new technician years to learn what he needs to know and get the customers’ trust. When it comes to the training before hire, I am finding the best are the ones who go to a school involved with the brand of equipment the dealer has. There they get a more in-depth training of the particulars of that brand.”
— Rick Abbadusky, Birkey’s Farm Store, Macomb, Ill.
“I wish more people were trained in how to communicate with and engage unhappy customers. Resolving difficult situations by listening, being empathetic, presenting a solution and following up is not something that comes naturally for many in the age of email, texting and social media, but it is still a foundation in trust and relationship building.”
— Jeremy Ostrander, AgriVision Group, Pacific Junction, Iowa
“GPS systems inside and out.”
— Jason Lance, Geoshack Precision Farming, Lubbock, Texas
“One of the main areas I would like to see people more experienced in would be just common sense dealing with other people. You can train for the skills needed for the jobs, but it’s very difficult to train someone who doesn’t meet the public very well.”
— Doug Neufeld, PrairieLand Partners, Hutchinson, Kan.
“No simple answer truly exists to this question. Obviously, technology drives our industry and the need for computer skills is mandatory. Common sense is a highly valuable trait along with self-confidence. You also need to like people and truly want to help them. The rest can be taught moving forward.”
— Brian McConnell, Harvest Equipment, Montpelier, Vt.
“The late, great college basketball coach, John Wooden is credited with a bazillion quotes, but, my favorite is: ‘Be quick, but don’t hurry.’ Everyone needs to understand this concept on day one of every job.”
— Eric Johnson, Johnson Tractor, Janesville, Wis.
“The one thing I wish new employees had experience with is punctuality. I was brought up understanding to be early for your post. When an employee strolls in late, they don’t understand what the big deal is. I have lost more than one employee for lack of punctuality.”
— Alan Lowe, San Joaquin Tractor, Bakersfield, Calif.
“I think that a lot of the time new employees struggle with their people skills. And, depending on their age, they can have issues with computers.”
— Kerry Marshall, Stotz Equipment, Avondale, Ariz.
“I wish new employees had better customer service skills and better people skills when hired. It is imperative that our employees know how to handle every situation they face, from the first-time customer, repeat customers or the customer who may have a problem or be upset about something. The first thing that one of our employees says to a customer may set the tone for that customer’s experience in our dealership. We would always like to make a very positive impression and make the customer feel comfortable that their needs are our priority.”
— Mark Turner, Mebane Tractor Inc., Mebane, N.C.
“How to ‘listen’ with their ears, not their lips.”
— Danny Kelley, B&B Outdoor Power, Newport, N.C.
“The most important thing at this point in precision farming is the ability to work with the technology, through understanding and application.”
— Wade Heggenstaller, Valley Ag Turf, Watsontown, Pa.
“That’s an easy answer. Finding someone who is teachable is worth a lot more than someone who thinks they are trained fully or even halfway trained.”
— John Criddle, Wade Inc., Clarksdale, Miss.
— Jack Janes, H&R Agri-Power, Owensboro, Ky.
“The people I have available need training on complete use of the computer. They say they have computer experience but not the kind it takes to troubleshoot machinery with a computer.”
— Eldean Reinke, Reinke’s Farm & City Service Inc., Neligh, Neb.
“Work ethic with attention to detail. A service tech who can do a job faster than anyone will inevitably be the one standing around an hour later because he can only maintain that drive for so long, and tomorrow you will have to sit him down to do the paperwork. Give me a tech who will start a job and finish it to the best of his ability, do the paperwork, clean his bay and say, ‘What’s next?’ He will get better. The fast guy will only get sloppier.”
— Craig Greenwood, Birkey’s Farm Store, Williamsport, Ind.
“Communication skills are almost non-existent. It seems like it’s just getting worse. Written, verbal and oral, they just can’t communicate. We need to go back to the basics in school — reading, writing and math.”
— Jeff Suchomski, Suchomski Equipment Inc., Pinckneyville, Ill.
“Being able to communicate and be courteous to customers. And also just how important it is to look nice and respect people. You are there as a servant to them.”
— Roland Mulherin, P&K Equipment, Kingfisher, Okla.
“I would like to see future employees have a ‘can do’ attitude. I am tired of employees with a ‘you owe me’ attitude. An employee’s attitude toward customers and the company is more important than anything else.”
— Todd Smisek, Stutheit Implement Co., Lincoln, Neb.
“I mostly want individuals with a real desire to work hard, have good morals and work ethic and really want to make a difference in this business — knowledge and training will come easily for people like this.”
— Name withheld by request
“We are seeing major concerns with many young staff unable to communicate effectively with co-workers/customers. The two things I would like to see is better communication skills and realistic expectations when coming in new as to pay and position. Obviously, everyone would like a ‘turnkey’ employee who knows the tasks, but that’s like finding a needle in a haystack.”
— Aaron Boggs, Finch Services, Westminster, Md.
“I wish they had more knowledge and awareness of the hours it takes in our industry during the busy seasons. While it is not always a problem, this is not a 9-5 job or like working a 40-hour week during harvest and planting. Not all new employees get this.”
— Mark Foster, Birkey’s Farm Store, Bloomington, Ill.
“The biggest issue is new employees who do not have the skills to deal with the public and fellow employees.”
— Rob Heuertz, Titan Machinery, LeMars, Iowa
“I would like to see more knowledge in the three R’s — reading, writing and arithmetic. Simple things that should come with 12 years of school!”
— Kevin Heisterkamp, Vetter Equipment, Storm Lake, Iowa
“The ability to empathize with customers and to realize each customer is a company asset and should be treated as an honored guest. Let management decide when a customer has become a liability, and if that happens, continue to treat the customer with courtesy. Likewise, if the new employee is to become an asset to the organization, he or she should realize that they were employed to become part of a team and a team effort and as such, should treat fellow employees with the same empathy and courtesy that should be extended to the valuable customer base. Always appear and act in a professional manner, anything less is not acceptable.”
— K.J. Zumbach, Zumbach Farm Equipment, Flemingburg, Ky.
“It is difficult to identify a single component since, as a dealer, we operate on the sales, parts and service ‘three-legged stool’ model. Each of these aspects of our business requires differing skills. “In our sales segment, we would like to see more general farm knowledge in order for more significant relationships to be established with our customers on a shorter timetable. “In parts, more product awareness with at least a certain inclination toward the technical aspects of current technology would be helpful. “Service is our most difficult area to find suitable candidates. In order to maintain adequate staffing levels, we are finding that we must hire individuals with limited experience and be willing to invest in their training to meet our needs. Aptitude is the biggest factor used to determine whether a candidate will excel in this process. Technical training, especially in the newest ‘precision’ components and systems, is extremely important along with the ability to diagnose/troubleshoot equipment/system failures. An element that would be helpful in all three cases is higher skill levels in interpersonal communication and interaction. I realize this is not one single answer, but I don’t believe there is a single answer to the challenges and needs in the hiring dilemma today.”
— Lowell Graybill, Binkley & Hurst, Lititz, Pa.
“Communication with proper etiquette.”
— Delbert Olson, Washington Tractor, Yakima, Wash.
“How to deal with and genuinely interact with customers of all types, as well as paying attention to them with empathy, so the customer does not just have a good customer service experience, but is willing to tell others about it.”
— Paul Neuhaus, Brazos Valley, Billsboro, Texas
“In the parts department here at Heritage Tractor, I’d have to say I’d hope for someone who has been in a selling environment where they have had lots of customer interaction. I feel a lot of other things can be taught as you go, but one bad customer experience can cause your company to lose long-term customers forever.”
— Richard Hinz, Heritage Tractor, Platte City, Mo.
“One thing I would like to see our potential employees trained on in advance is the importance of customer service and communication. They have no real background most of the time in how to deal with and communicate with our customers.”
— Don Berger, Green Iron Equipment, Milnor, N.D.
“One of the challenges we are starting to see in the ag sector is not necessarily training related but rather related to employee expectations. If your new employees come from an agricultural background, they understand the demands that come in the busy season and fully expect to put in long hours and work weekends. If they don’t come from an agricultural background, they tend to group ag dealers into the automotive sector, which is used to the shop doors being locked at 5 or 6 Friday and don’t open again until 8 or 9 Monday. We all know this isn’t the case in our industry. “The issue then becomes getting the commitment from employees to provide the support and experience that our customers have come to expect from our organization. That is the challenge. “There are always going to be skills that we wish the educational institutions would incorporate into their curriculum, but what we really need is to somehow teach this generation that is entering the workforce that there are no ‘entry level management positions’ and that we need to provide 24/7 support to our customers if we are expected to feed the world in the years ahead.”
— Arthur Ward, JayDee AgTech, Swift Current, Sask.
“A customer service attitude. This is significant for what we are trying to accomplish. We always look for people who know what good customer service looks like and display that in their attitude.”
— Clint Schnoor, Agri-Service, Twin Falls, Idaho
“While finding experienced employees is becoming increasingly difficult in any field, the real challenge has been finding people with the right work ethic. I would gladly take a self-motivated, driven, inexperienced person with the willingness to learn.”
— Charles Crow, M&D Distributors, San Antonio, Texas
“My thought would be the ability to see or do work without waiting for someone to tell them to do it. Manage their actions in the work place.”
— Dick Bomberger, Hoober Inc., Intercourse, Pa.