Robin O'Mara President, O’Mara Ag Services

Robert (Robin) O’Mara in 1998 established O’Mara Ag Services, a design-build construction company to the seed industry. His company manufactures seed handling equipment with ‘seedmanship’ built in to meet the unique needs of a niche market. Before forming O’Mara Ag Services, O’Mara was with Corn States Hybrid Services where he participated in facility design and construction.

The process of hiring a new employee has turned upside-down compared to what it was in the past. Being able to expect to find a new hire with the right skills and experience turns out to have been a luxury. Now we look for someone willing to work and show up on time as minimum standards. Bring me willing workers and I will teach them the job. Economists say, “the job market continues to be strong.” Strong for whom? It is not so darn strong for those of us who need help and want to expand our business.

When I needed money, I scooped snow. I mowed yards, delivered newspapers and washed dishes. Somehow, I found out I liked money and what it could bring. When I was 15, I begged Gary, the local grocery store’s assistant manager to hire me, which he couldn’t do until I turned 16 (he did hire me, by the way). I must have gotten a work ethic from my hardworking, heavy equipment mechanic dad. We tore down houses to build our garage. We poured our own concrete. We worked on our own cars and I got my ass whipped when I needed it (and surely deserved it). Maybe I wanted to show my dad that I could work hard or please him. Dad is not around today and was never really able to see if I would become successful. I think I am still trying to please him today. That is how work and a job are supposed to work from my perspective.

Everything is changing. Interviewing a candidate has changed. Years ago, we would ask someone about experience and job skills. We would want to know about their work record. Now it seems I just want to know IF they will work. Asking about job expectations used to focus on extended career goals. An older applicant with a family to support may still have long-term aspirations, but for many younger applicants “future aspirations” is a foreign concept. It may only be a slight exaggeration that they are more interested in when they will get their first promotion.

The building trades industry presents vivid evidence of the lack of workers willing to do the job. Home builders are lagging on new construction as they can’t find enough worker bees. Outdoor jobs like home building and seed plant building don’t always happen in the most comfortable environments. Hot. Cold. No air conditioning. Long days. Tiring work. Anything the weather can bring. This used to be the definition of “work” but not anymore.

We still need good help and new employees, but maybe we have to adjust how we go after them. Traditional incentives may not be as appealing to today’s job seekers. A good benefit program is a necessity, not a perk. The quality of life that a position offers may be as important as the monies it provides. Be creative with your perks. Talk to your neighbors, your suppliers and your distributors to see how they attract and retain their employees.

There are qualified people who can do what you need done – you just need to attract them to the position in a way that is meaningful to them. It is an upside-down world compared to what it used to be.