Navigating Dairy’s Next Horizon: Shamubeel Eaqub’s vision for the future.

By Julia Jones

As the dairy industry reaches a crucial turning point, the ever-changing economic and global scenarios reinforce the value of Shamubeel Eaqub’s insights, first shared at last year’s People Expo hosted by DairyNZ and the Dairy Women’s Network. Preparing for this year’s Expo, Shamubeel’s focus will be on the rapidly evolving economic landscape and the emerging challenges it brings. His insights from last year, combined with his upcoming revelations should provide impetus  to farmers for the direction needed to secure the people that will drive the future of our industry.

A pressing issue is the educational gap in our workforce, with 60% lacking post-school qualifications. Addressing this gap goes beyond formal education; it’s about equipping our workforce with essential skills and knowledge. Rethinking our approach to workforce development and people management is not just beneficial, but critical for the long-term sustainability and advancement of the dairy industry.

Grasping tradition can be costly.

The dairy industry’s future hinges on embracing change. Challenges like labour shortages, the need for sustainable practices, and succession planning may seem like hurdles – but they’re also opportunities for innovation and drivers of transformation, pushing us to refine our operations and ensure long-term farm successClinging to tradition – without good commercial reasons – could slow or even reverse the progress we have made.

We need to have a good evidence-based solutions. Labour challenges are not unique to dairy or New Zealand, we are competing globally for workers. Less than 10% of our dairy workers come from overseas, emphasizing that overseas workers alone will not solve the labour shortage. Like a leaking bucket constantly being filled from the top, eventually there will be no water to pour, leaving the ‘labour bucket’ empty unless we prioritise retention of our staff, rather than thinking about labour through a recruitment lens.

To thrive, we must see through the eyes of those we wish to hire, recognising that their motivations might differ from ours. Understanding this is crucial – not everyone aspires to farm ownership or career progression in the traditional sense, but they can still be invaluable to our business. What worked in the past, may not work now, or in the future. Focusing on what suits our team best is key to unlocking their potential and ensuring the dairy industry’s future prosperity.

Investing in the workforce is no longer a matter of choice but a necessity. This means not just hiring workers but cultivating a team that is skilled, motivated, and aligned with the farm’s goals. Innovative approaches are crucial. This includes offering continuous training and development opportunities, and ensuring a positive, inclusive work environment. This might all sound expensive but it’s a lot cheaper and far more effective than being stuck on the rehiring treadmill.

Mirror of Reality: Reflecting on our own behaviors.

We must take ownership of the situation. If your farm is constantly searching for new team members, either your farm is a stepping stone for workers moving on to other opportunities, or, more likely, there’s a gap in how you hire and retain staff.

Acknowledging a problem is the first step to solving it. Your team is there to run your business efficiently; they are not an inconvenience. This means you need to be adapting your own behaviours to get the best out of your team; this will include embracing diversity in the workforce. Diversity brings fresh perspectives and drives innovation. Successful dairy industry examples show that innovative people management leads to higher productivity, job satisfaction, and retention rates.

Failure to invest in people effectively will eventually leave you without a team to hire, jeopardising your business’s very existence. In other words, without a committed and capable team, there is no business left to run, let alone innovate.

The workforce has other options.

Shamubeel Eaqub’s insights are a wake-up call for honest reflection in the dairy industry. The hard numbers show we haven’t been investing enough in our people – because people are voting with their feet. The workforce has options in other sectors, dairy is not their only choice. This reality should drive us to action. Seeing our strategies through potential employees’ eyes is essential, not just wise.

At a crossroads, the dairy sector’s future depends on our people management decisions. Wholeheartedly embracing change, investing in our workforce, and striving to create a resilient, sustainable, and attractive dairy sector is more than a goal – it’s imperative. We are charting a course for thriving, not just surviving. Building a dairy industry that leverages challenges to become a preferred choice for tomorrow’s workforce. Come along to this year’s People Expo series to learn more about front footing the future of people leadership in the dairy sector.

You can catch Shamubeel Eaqub at the DairyNZ & Dairy Women’s Network People Expo events this March.

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