Harvester works to find and keep good employees

Carl Jameson can't afford to be picky when hiring people to man his Turlock, CA, custom harvesting operation.

With $15/hour Silicone Valley factory jobs not far away, he's facing stiff competition to his $8.50/hour truck driver positions.

Yet Jameson, who employs 35-37 hands at the top of his har-vest season, must be doing something right.

Okay, he does have some trucking positions open. But Ja-meson maintains an employee return rate of 75-80% - not bad in a very seasonal business.

"We get them where we get them," says the owner of Jame-son Harvesting Inc., which har-vests up to 250,000 tons of oat, alfalfa and corn silage a year. "What we want is a warm body that can think."

Some of those employees are retirees who, in the past, wanted to make up to the Social Security limit of $10,000 per year. A couple others are over 70 and didn't have the Social Security earning limit problem. (The recent Social Security change, which eliminates the earning limit, could help Jameson's business.)

Jameson likes hiring older workers. They take good care of his equipment and are dedicated, he says.

"They aren't the fastest in the world, but we don't need a ball of fire. We need someone who is dependable."

Other dependable people include women truck drivers - one has worked for Jameson for nearly four years. "She's one of our top drivers," he says.

Jameson also arranges green-card jobs for a couple of drivers from Mexico who spend the harvest season with him, then move back home.

He's also not afraid to hire re-cent truck driving school gradu-ates.

"For most of them, the only place they can get a job is with someone like us because they don't have any experience yet."

Some of his help has come from unexpected sources. One of his sons traveled to Australia during the off-season and worked with a custom harvester there, where harvesting was in full force.

By Jameson's next season, the two owners of the Australian company flew over to work six weeks for him. The following year one of their employees came over to work.

"Overall, it was a good experi-ence. They already had knowl-edge of what we were doing. They learned how we do things and my son learned things over there."

Jameson is kicking around the idea of placing ads in retirement or travel magazines. He's hoping his seasonal openings would appeal to people who want to travel and make some money on the side.

One now-retired harvester had offered water-sewer hookup pads for RVs or trailer homes to entice employees. "They'd stay there free and work for him. They benefited in that respect, and he had a good labor force," Jameson points out.

But his best employees, Jameson says, are his family.

Son Patrick, who took diesel technology training, does diesel repair and runs the bagging crews. Another son, Jay, runs pit crews and supervises shop maintenance. One of his daughters, Elizabeth, manages the office while Jameson's brother, Michael, is second in command.

"They're the best because they've got a vested interest in it. It's their livelihood and they were raised on it."

Once he has good employees, Jameson offers them a "laid-back" management atmosphere. "We give a little here and they give a little there."

His equipment, especially his fleet of trucks, consists of newer models.

"We have to have air condi-tioning and air-ride seats in the trucks, and they want radios. And you can't blame them because that's what they can get from somebody else."

Jameson also cross-trains his help so if one crew is short one person, and someone isn't needed elsewhere, he can be put to good use.

"There's quite a bit of diversity in our work. That's appealing to a lot of people instead of sitting there all day, putting nut A on bolt B, or something like that."