Pro-Dairy: Evaluate your employee training programs

By Mark Thomas, DVM

Do your education programs for Spanish-speaking employees meet these six criteria?

To address the needs of the dairy industry, both the public and private sectors offer training, education, meeting facilitation and translation in Spanish. Agriservice, such as veterinary clinics or A.I. companies, may provide these value-added services. Or producers may turn to public organizations, such as Cooperative Extension, for Hispanic training and translation.

Both private and public programs can provide quality instruction and personnel assistance, but not all training programs are equal. Whatever training program you choose for your Spanish-speaking dairy employees, it should have these six characteristics:

1. The person conducting the program should understand dairying or have experience with farming. This is just as important – if not more so – than strong bilingual skills.

Frequently dairy managers turn to the local high school Spanish teacher to help provide translation or training to Spanish-speaking employees. While Spanish teachers can help communicate general messages, they’re unlikely to have the language and context of dairying needed to do detailed translating and training.

Generally dairy-related jargon and colloquial words and phrases aren’t in a dictionary. But the trainer should be aware of these. It helps the trainer understand Spanish-speaking employees better and builds rapport with them. They’re more likely to identify with a person using “blue collar” Spanish than someone who speaks formal Castilian Spanish.

Trainers with experience on dairies and appropriate language skills can meet with farm owners or managers to discuss their concerns with employee performance and deliver the message in an uninterrupted, coherent manner.

2. Make sure employees understand training is part of continuing education, not retribution for wrongdoing. This is a difficult concept for Hispanic employees to grasp initially.

They may approach a meeting hesitantly, thinking they’re going to be reprimanded in response to a problem such as poor udder health or increased calf mortality. But once Hispanic employees are introduced to education, they embrace it.

3. Training should cover both the what and the why. Some employees won’t care why a certain procedure, such as udder preperation, must be done, but adoption is generally more successful if they know the reasons why a process is important.

For example, if employees know the importance of thoroughly post-dipping teats, the dairy generally gets better implementation of the practice.

4. Discover what employees know before beginning training. If there are different levels of experience and knowledge, employees maybe able to train each other.

It’s important for trainers and managers to ask employees if procedures being taught can be successfully implemented. After all, they’re the people milking cows, feeding calves or working in the maternity area.

Also, getting employee input places more of the ownership of a procedure with the employee and often ensures a greater chance of full implementation.

5. Employees benefit from both generic and farm-specific training. Group sessions with employees from multiple dairies can be useful and provide a great opportunity for workers to take personal pride in their dairies. However, on-farm training is always important.

We can teach the basics of milking procedure and assisting with calf deliveries in a generic format, but there are many specifics on each dairy that are critical to successful outcomes. Trainers are more likely to encounter other teachable moments if they’re participating in on-the-job training and translation.

6. The trainer must consider the possibility of limited literacy skills. To accommodate different literacy levels, it’s important to use lots of pictures and diagrams in presentations. Props also keep presentations stimulating and allow for hands-on demonstrations.

To ensure employees understand procedures, make sure easy-to-understand bilingual training materials such as handouts and standard operating procedures (SOPs) are available. Flow charts, diagrams, animations and pictures are excellent visual aids to outline a process such as milking procedure.

Lifelong learning

Training sessions are the basis of continuing education on a dairy, not the last word. Tracking the results of training and showing those results to both employees and managers are necessary for successful training. It’s also a way to help prevent procedural drift.

Some training feedback can be almost immediate. For example, using Lactocorder graphs demonstrates the benefits of proper milking procedure. Other indicators such as tracking somatic cell count (SCC) and stillbirth or morbidity rates may be more long term. Keep in mind that a change in SCC does not necessarily indicate a drift from proper milking procedure. A more appropriate direct measure of the procedure may be parlor throughput or teat coverage of post dip.

The bottom line is employees must know where to turn for answers. And they must realize that training is dynamic and ongoing. Protocols will need periodic revision based on changes within the dairy.

If you’ve successfully communicated that training isn’t retribution for wrong doing, then you must follow through with recognition of a job well done. Too often dairy managers miss this important step in the training process.

Recognition doesn’t have to be linked to financial rewards. But it must be prompt and public so peers and professionals visiting the dairy can see the accomplishments. A message board hung conspicuously at the dairy is an effective tool for public recognition.


Mark Thomas is a veterinarian with Countryside Veterinary Clinic based in Lowville, N.Y. Reach him at 315.376.6563. Email: