By week, Ella Shannon was a managerial consultant in the corporate farming industry, traversing the countryside between farm managers and head offices, from her home in Sydney. On weekends, she was often then on call to help out on the family farm near Yass where an extra pair of hands was always welcome at busy times.
After clocking up thousands of kilometres on the odometer and having countless hours of thinking time in the car, Ella could clearly see a growing and consistent “point of pain” in the primary industry for reliable seasonal and peak period labour, allowing farming enterprises to scale up and down as needed, without going through the drawn out process of advertising or searching through the likes of Gumtree to find people.
In response to this huge inefficiency, Ella could see potential in the development of a website providing farmers with a quick, reliable, trustworthy source of workers who have been given testimonials by former employers and one which then also reviews the farmers on their workplaces, fairness and managerial styles.
“I began thinking about how to bring together people and positions in an easy self-service platform and I liked the idea of Airbnb which relies on a user review system to build trust on both sides,” she explains.
“A program with the capability to do this would significantly decrease the time and pain experienced by farmers to find staff. It would also ignite Australia’s large transient workforce of backpackers, grey nomads and those chasing rural work within certain skill sets.”
So, in 2015 the concept of AgDraft was born. In September of 2015 she won a Westpac Innovation Grant and by March 2016 had launched the pilot platform of the program, before the fully functioning platform was launched in December last year which also coincided with a move out of the city to Cowra.
“I developed the platform together with a Queensland based company called Digital Village which has a strong interest in agriculture and the development of programs for the industry. The process of the technology build took six months integrating user design planners, the digital development team and feedback from farmers and workers,” Ella recalls.
“Using technology, there will always be an ongoing and ever-changing need to keep the program up to date and both Digital Village and myself are committed.”
The response to AgDraft, first picked up by broadacre farms in northern NSW, near Warren, has been fantastic. To date, the site has over 300 farms using it and more than 1,200 workers signed up. It is now moving into servicing the needs of mixed farming and horticultural businesses in southern areas.
With the efficiencies required these days to run a profitable farming business, it makes perfect economic sense to bring in additional labour only when it is needed, rather than keep a full-time flotilla of staff and struggle to keep them busy, engaged and cost effective during quiet periods.
“I heard time and again how impossible it was finding reliable staff quickly when you needed them most.
“Gone are the days of simple ‘word-of-mouth’ recommendations traditionally offered between farmers in town or at the footy field. However platform solutions on the internet can provide the same or even better networking ability. Using AgDraft, farmers can rate a previous worker to the benefit of their neighbours or a farmer across the country when they next need a reliable worker.”
The common tread underpinning AgDraft and the whole primary industry is that the skill sets across all farming businesses are quite similar, regardless of whether it is a corporate farm or private business.
Farmers set up a free business profile and then pay to post their vacant positions giving as much detail as possible about the job. The site’s algorithms then do the sorting and send through recommended workers matching the skills and requirements of the position. Farmers review these suggested worker profiles to see what previous farmers have said about their work, create a shortlist then contact and find the right person for the job. Alternatively, farmers can just browse the database of workers and invite them to apply for job postings. The terms of employment, responsibility for all payroll and superannuation payments is then agreed to by the employing farmer and worker offline and AgDraft’s involvement in the process is finished.
Once a worker has completed the job, employers are then asked to give an honest review of the person in their own words. A testimonial – good or bad.
Workers, on the other hand, set up an AgDraft profile for free and can then search for work in a wide range of agricultural settings, skills and requirements. They build their profile as they complete each job via the farmer reviews, so other employers can see honest and truthful reviews about their skill set, work ethics and recommendations.
At the same time, and in order to balance the honesty and integrity of the site, Ella says workers also review the farmers who employed them, the conditions, communication skills and management styles.
At “Haddon Rig” at Warren, there’s always the need to employ workers for short and long term positions and farming manager Rob Latham has started to use AgDraft.
“It’s a bit hard to drive 400km to interview someone or to get a true idea with a phone call, so I really like the review and rating system,” he says.
“I trust the fact that other farmers and managers, like me, know how important it is to find the right staff, so their reviews are pretty spot on and honest. In the past I have spent a fortune advertising on Gumtree and in newspapers and I find AgDraft to be very reasonably priced and it does have a targeted audience.”
“I have actually got a couple of staff I got through AgDraft for short term jobs and they are still here six months later!”
In the near future AgDraft is moving toward including an administration and payroll function on the site “although the terms of employment will always be between the farmer and worker”.
“While the main focus for us today is in providing the semi-skilled labour most farmers are demanding now. The next five to 10 years will see a huge amount of change as agricultural industries adopt an increasing number of new technologies and applications,” Ella says.
“We will see farming businesses demanding vastly different skills to those demanded now. I’m imagining farmers will be sourcing more highly skilled workers with knowledge of data management, predictive analysis and modelling, block chain, artificial intelligence, robotics... who knows? But I’m sure the ‘word of mouth’ recommendations will still be valuable and with that AgDraft will adapt so farmers can always source the skill sets they require as the industry grows and changes.
“The real challenge for AgDraft and the industry as a whole, is how do we attract brilliant minds and highly skilled experts from other fields, traditionally in the city or mining industry, and show them just how exciting the primary industries are and how they can enjoy a fulfilling and progressive career west of the Great Dividing Range.”