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Beyond pay - how mushroom farms attract staff

Beyond pay - how mushroom farms attract staff

By Blake Jackson

Pennsylvania's $600 million mushroom industry faces a significant challenge: keeping enough workers. A recent study by Penn State researchers offers valuable insights for these farms.

The study, based on interviews with both workers and HR personnel, highlights the importance of factors beyond just wages. While competitive pay is crucial, family-friendly scheduling and respectful treatment emerged as key motivators for workers to stay.

For many mushroom farm workers, particularly those with families, child care is a major concern. Early morning shifts to ensure fresh produce shipment often clash with school schedules.

Additionally, during peak seasons, packing plants require longer hours, creating a childcare gap for parents.

The study also found that respectful treatment from supervisors is highly valued, especially among female packing plant workers. Workers reported instances of feeling rushed and yelled at by managers, creating a less than ideal work environment.

While the research was conducted in 2018-2019, the researchers acknowledge potential changes and industry progress since then. However, the findings offer valuable guidance.

While raising wages is a balancing act for farms needing to stay competitive, the year-round nature of mushroom farming stands out compared to seasonal jobs with potentially higher wages.

Many farms rely on labor contractors to fill gaps, but this isn't their ideal solution. Direct employment allows farms to offer benefits like health insurance, something workers appreciate despite potential affordability concerns.

Additionally, direct employment ensures workers receive proper medical care for work-related injuries.

The study also highlights the importance of creating a welcoming work environment. Social events and fostering a sense of community can significantly impact worker satisfaction.

The research, funded by the American Mushroom Institute, aimed to understand the industry's needs, particularly regarding attracting more women to the workforce.

The study doesn't pinpoint the exact cause of the labor shortage, but it equips farms with valuable insights to improve worker retention.

Offering competitive pay, family-friendly scheduling, respectful treatment, and a welcoming environment can go a long way in attracting and retaining a loyal workforce.

Photo Credit: istock-guruxoox

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