Focus on enhancing people management and wellbeing

After spending 25 years as a social worker, in 2021 Bernadette Bennett transitioned to staff development and people management within the dairy industry.

Bernadette is People and Culture Manager at Ashgrove Cheese Pty Ltd, a dairy manufacturing operation that employs around 110 people. The operation currently has 16 employees on the farm and a sharefarmer.

Additionally, Bernadette is one of the owners of Ashgrove Farms Tasmania Pty Ltd – a family-owned and operated business in Northern Tasmania that consists of five dairies and a beef operation.

Overcoming challenges

Although experienced in working with people, switching from social work to the people and culture role hasn’t been easy for Bernadette. 

“One of the main challenges I faced was coming into the role without a background in human resources. While there are many transferrable skills between social work and this role, I have had to learn, and am still learning, specific human resources knowledge,” she says.

“We have approximately eight different Awards across the farm and the factory, which was a minefield when you are starting off.”

Bernadette was surprised that some of the skills she picked up as a social worker have essential people management elements. 

“That includes regularly reflecting on my own practice – what I did well and what I didn’t do well.  If you feel that people management is not something you do well, there are concrete skills and tips that you can learn to assist you,” she says. 

“It is not some mysterious area to shy away from even if you think you aren’t a ‘people person’.  People are one of your most, if not the most, valuable business assets – so you need to invest in them.”

To assist with her continual learning in the people space, Bernadette completed a Certificate IV in Human Resources Management and connected with local contacts and professional networks. 

Bernadette wanted even more knowledge about what was available, so she reached out to Dairy Australia – and as a result, attended the Employment Basics program online in 2022.

“I was hoping to learn more about the Pastoral Award specifically, and to consolidate what I was learning in my Cert IV around recruitment, writing a job description, onboarding, payroll, staff retention and training,” she explains. 

“The Dairy Australia presenters were very knowledgeable and approachable. I also found the opportunity to network with others in the group from across Australia was very valuable for sharing ideas as well as concerns and queries, and the tools and resources are invaluable.” 

Sourcing knowledge

Bernadette would highly recommend anyone who is thinking about building their skills and knowledge to get in touch with Dairy Australia.  

“I think that most of us are not working in businesses where we have a team of HR people to draw upon; we are mostly on our own in the role or doing it off the side of your desk while doing another role entirely. It makes sense to not reinvent the wheel, and to use the knowledge and resources at Dairy Australia,” she says. 

It is also vital to have a good understanding of employment practices and people management within the business, as Bernadette explains. 

“As we learnt in the Employment Basics course, we always need to be mindful of the policy and legal frameworks in which we operate. Our people management is an integral part of the success of the business, so it is important that time and energy is put into doing this to the best of our ability.”

Attending the Employment Basics program greatly increased Bernadette’s confidence in the people support and management space.

“It provided me with many tools and resources, and a network within Dairy Australia where I could go for help if needed,” she says.

“It also helped me to focus on improving one or two main areas immediately, which was my recruitment and onboarding process. 

“As I continue in my journey in HR, I can go back to those Employment Basics tools and resources as required.”

Looking ahead

Bernadette’s passion is promoting well-being in the workplace, and this is reflected in her plans for Ashgrove Cheese and Ashgrove Farms.

“I’ll be focusing on the key areas set out in the Safe Work Australia Code of Practice for ‘Managing Psychosocial Hazards at Work’ to ensure that we are compliant in this area,” she explains.

“I hope that in five years’ time both businesses will be an Employer of Choice and that I will be playing my part in ensuring that the human resource management processes are in place for this to occur.”

What Employment Basics offers dairy farmers

Employment Basics is a national facilitated program for improving your skills and confidence as an employer. It also provides the opportunity to connect and share experiences with other dairy farmers.

Delivered online for your convenience by our people management experts, this eight-week program covers the following areas: attraction, recruitment, onboarding, retention and payroll/legal/compliance responsibilities.

Find out more about Employment Basics and register for the next program.

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