The local cooperative is a cornerstone of business in many rural communities; it is also a changing business increasingly relying on technology to help farmer-owners boost production and profitability. Yet the local cooperative is challenged in a key area — finding top talent. And it needs to do that often, without the help of recruiters or human resource personnel.
One national cooperative — Land O’Lakes — has been building on its efforts to connect the local cooperative with new graduates, expanding on its own recruitment and linking candidates with open positions across the country. “Obviously, you need talented employees in any business,” says Brad Oelmann, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Land O’Lakes Services. “For us and our owners, it’s really important we get that right.”
Oelmann explains that many of those smaller cooperatives have a need for more talent, but lack the tools to reach out to college campuses to recruit. That’s where Nick Koewler and his team come in. Koewler is manager of talent acquisition and college relations at Land O’Lakes.
There’s a two-part challenge. First, the local cooperative lacks the staff for heavier recruitment; and second, the talent pool coming out of college may not think of the local cooperative as a potential place to work.
“With the reach we have through our owner system, we can pique the interest for candidates,” Koewler says. “There is a lot of new tech, and new things happening in agriculture, and we are working to tie that to the consumer product world.”
That food-farm link and the ag tech connection are interesting to these prospective candidates, and the link is growing beyond what you might expect. “We have a need for marketing and business grads beyond agronomy graduates,” Koewler says.
Adds Oelmann: “It depends on the school — there is an understanding of the local cooperative for many; but we’re reaching beyond the ag colleges and looking at business or marketing, and they’re less familiar with ag retail and the opportunities there.”
Oelmann says many jobs offered are in agronomy and feed sales, but Land O’Lakes is seeing more local cooperatives beefing up those back-of-the-house functions in human resources, communications and more. “There’s a demographic shift, and we’re looking for talent that is not just field-based.”
Tech and the new grad
For farmers, having top talent at the local cooperative is increasingly important. The rising amount of on-farm technology that cooperatives must not only connect with, but also support, creates new challenges. At the same time, cooperatives are raising their sophistication in accounting, marketing and business management, which requires deeper talent, too.
It’s the ag tech that gets the attention of many new grads. “The drones, use of the R7 Tool and other tech-based systems is growing. Many students who aren’t around cooperatives don’t realize that this is a growing trend,” Koewler says. The R7 Tool is a key foundation for ag tech with WinField United, the ag services, insights and support division of Land O’Lakes.
Reaching out to new grads is more than just sharing the “shiny new thing” that a local cooperative is involved with. Local cooperatives are also raising their management game to create an environment where new grads can flourish. “I challenge my team; we’re not just promoting a new opening, but we’re promoting who the local owner is as well,” Koewler says. “We’re promoting what’s new in their business, and what there is to get excited about.”
As college grads start to don their caps and gowns for that graduating class of 2018, many with a love of food and agriculture may want to consider their opportunities at a local cooperative. If so, Land O’Lakes may have just the opportunity they need. If you know a grad who’s interested, he or she can reach out to [email protected]. And you can visit landolakesinc.com/careers for more information, too.