Getting the farm manager job right

Planning to employ a general farm manager or applying for such a position yourself? Being a farm foreman can either be extremely fulfilling or hell on earth, depending on how you approach the job.

The joke that some farmers treat their foremen like sons while others treat their sons like foremen sums up this unique occupation well. The job of managing an average South African commercial livestock or crop farm is difficult to formulate: you never know where your responsibility ends in looking after valuable and vulnerable assets. There are so many things that can go wrong – even within a few hours.

Salaries can be another big issue. Unless the applicant is very well qualified with some practical experience, he or she is likely to work hard – and for long hours – for a relatively low salary. But the perks of farm life could make up for this, depending on your mindset.

Although landing a job with an understanding farmer could secure your future, it could also result in extreme disillusionment for both the farmer and the new recruit. Often it’s youngsters or older couples who apply for these positions. In both cases the applicants are so keen to get the job that they’re prepared to fall in without signing any kind of work contract. A big mistake, obviously.

Farmers or absentee landowners advertising for a foreman usually have definite criteria in mind, uppermost probably being responsibility. They want someone they can rely on 24 hours a day to do almost anything they themselves can or cannot do.

They want someone who is not only enthusiastic about the work but also energetic and inventive. So it goes without saying that being a farm foreman is tough.

So if you’re applying for this job, remember the following:

■ Find out as much as you can about your prospective employer – how successful is his business; how does he treat his staff; has he employed a foreman before?

■ Are you sure you can make decisions and operate on your own without having to be told what to do all the time?

■ Are you good at managing people?

■ Be sure you know enough about the kind of farming operation to add value to the business. If you want to work on a wool-sheep farm, for example, the least you need to know is how to class wool and fix a windmill. Be prepared to learn as much as you can – and fast – during your trial period.

■ You’ll need a heavy-duty driver’s licence.

■ Be prepared not only to be on full-time duty, but also to get your hands and your boots dirty. Sitting around doing nothing will get you into trouble.

■ Know your basic working hours per day, whether overtime is paid, and arrangements regarding public holidays and weekends.

■ For the relationship to succeed, both sides will need to give and take. Even so, ask for a reasonable contract in writing that is acceptable to both parties. It should cover everything from medical insurance to the use of a farm bakkie and in-house accommodation.

And if you’re employing a foreman, keep these tips in mind:

■ Think carefully about why you want to appoint a general foreman, and what you would expect from them. Do you have the time and ability to train him or her; and to what degree would you tolerate mistakes?

■ Do a proper background check on your applicants. They need to have technical and practical competence as well as the ability to make sound business decisions.

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