In a new series detailing the workforce development and training available at various farming operations across Queensland, the Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance spoke to Darwalla Group about the job opportunities they offer and the career development their provide.
Darwalla Group is the largest Queensland owned poultry producer. The Benfer Family commenced operations at Mt Cotton in 1933 and today grow more than 25 million live chickens per year throughout South East Queensland. Darwalla also own fifty percent of the Golden Cockerel processing and marketing operation based at Mt Cotton.
Darwalla believes that its employees are its most valuable asset and as such, seeks to assist them in achieving their full potential by providing competency-based education and training programs. We also believe that Darwalla must provide knowledge and skills to individuals to increase their ability to perform their current duties or to allow them to assume future duties. Darwalla training programs are available to all employees including full-time, part time, casual and temporary staff.
We are also a group of individuals from diverse cultural backgrounds, thirteen nationalities, ranging in age from seventeen to seventy-five, who thanks to the continuous development Darwalla has to offer, have been building capabilities at the same time as the company has been building capacity within the operation. All of us as a unit, striving to grow a more efficient and productive Darwalla in a very competitive and demanding market.
Darwalla is a fully integrated poultry producer with breeding, hatching and growing facilities supported by feed milling, catching and transport operations. Darwalla employs around 150 people and engages several contractors to support the operation.
At Darwalla we have developed standards and training schedules which outline the minimum requirements for an integrated poultry producer to run efficiently. The training program encompasses the processes of planning for, providing and evaluating training.
All training at Darwalla Group has been developed and updated based on current codes of practice, legal requirements and industry specifications. For internal training, we have developed a training schedule/matrix for each department. The training schedule identifies training needs for each position and required training frequency. We have also developed a Darwalla Safety Manual, electronic presentations and assessments of competency for each topic delivered. These tools are used to conduct training and refresher training for all employees within the group. The training is conducted by the Department Managers on monthly and ad hoc basis and includes SOP’s, WH&S (online), Quality and legislative requirements. Each month each employee invests from one to five hours on training.
In 2013, Darwalla identified the need to implement a training program on Certificate III in Poultry Production. Because of the importance of this training for the future direction of Darwalla, Company Management decided to start the training for 20 key employees and allocated resources to ensure completion of the program. In December 2013, Darwalla received confirmation of NWDF approval for 50 employees. Darwalla partnered this program with Improve Group (RTO). All the training and assessment material was developed by Darwalla personnel and delivered by qualified Darwalla trainers. We used our own expertise in order to deliver current and relevant training to our own personnel. We were able to give this training “Darwalla flavour” to make it more effective and enjoyable. On the 13th November 2015, we held the final awards and graduation ceremony. This was the culmination of the two-year training program, with 59 employees participating in the certificate and 46 graduates. Darwalla Group, in partnership with Improve Group, was the first to deliver the Certificate III in Poultry Production in Queensland. Darwalla has made the program available to anyone who requires it within the poultry industry and has discussed with the RTO the possibility of joint delivery of this program to other poultry producers. Currently the Certificate III in Poultry Production program is the foundation for internal training for new employees.
At the beginning of 2016, with the introduction of new technology in the company, it became evident that key personnel required improved leadership and management skills. It was also identified that this process was bringing a cultural change as the company was moving from “farming” to “manufacturing” practices. The move to a manufacturing model also required these key staff to have skills in Lean Manufacturing. In October 2016, Darwalla commenced a dual certificate – Certificate IV in Competitive Practices (LEAN) and Certificate IV in Leadership and Management. Darwalla has been partnering this program with two RTO’s (Efficiency Works and Response Consulting Australia). In November 2017 we graduated 19 participants from this program. The second intake for the Certificate IV in Competitive Practices (LEAN) and Certificate IV in Leadership and Management commenced in September 2017. For this second intake we have reviewed and adjusted the program to reflect changes in the business plan and have made some adjustments from lessons learnt from the previous intake. Eight participants graduated from the program in November 2018. Currently we are running the 3rd intake with 17 participants who are expected to be graduated in August 2020. Graduation night has been scheduled for the 29th of August 2020, when we expect to celebrate the culmination of one year of a very rewarding journey. Current and past students who have undertaken the Certificate IV in Competitive Practices (LEAN) and Certificate IV in Leadership and Management are generating a wealth of opportunities for improvement (projects). Team projects have been presented on a quarterly basis to the Senior Leadership Team as the program progresses. Projects are discussed during these meetings and priorities, time frames and resources are allocated.
In recent years Darwalla has found it increasingly difficult to source specialised staff with the technical and soft skills required to take this new step in the company’s growth. We need to develop our own people through training, exposure to industry best practice and higher education. We have identified a critical need to cultivate our leadership, frontline management and competitive manufacturing abilities across all levels of the organisation.
For those reasons, Darwalla identified key personnel who needed to be coached and developed within the organisation. Darwalla liaised with training organisations to assist with this task. Specifically, Darwalla in partnership with Efficiency Works (RTO) and Response Consulting (RTO) developed the dual certificate – Cert IV in Competitive Practices (LEAN) and Cert IV in Leadership and Management, with the aim to provide those employees with the necessary tools to be able to cope with a company that is rapidly transforming to a more innovative and automatised operation. Our Senior Leadership Team has been also upskilled through the same program, undertaking a customised training plan which gave them the necessary tools to coach and mentor their staff in the cultural change the company is facing, changing from “farmers” to “operators” and from “farming” to “manufacture”.
The introduction of new technology in the company made it evident that as we were investing in capacity, we needed to invest in capabilities too. Key personnel required to improve not only their technical abilities but their leadership and management skills. It was also identified that this process was bringing a cultural change as the company was moving from “farming” to “manufacturing” practices. The move to a manufacturing model also required these key staff to have more than technical skills.
In 2018, Darwalla started a process of re-shaping roles and skills at every level in the organisation. We engaged a consultant from “Response Consulting Australia” to facilitate the initial process of role clarity. Through the role clarity process, we are assessing current practices vs current roles. This helped us to identify gaps and potential improvements within the workforce. The results of those role clarities have helped us to improve our performance management system and bringing more engagement, feedback, and conversation to the performance appraisal process – (Cognology). The cognology system is assisting Darwalla in the process of talent identification and gap analysis, assessing training needs depending on training plans, based on role descriptions. It is also helping us to streamline the onboarding process. Cognology is embedded in the talent identification and training plans modules.
The poultry industry traditionally has been a “farming business” and as such staff have been promoted through the chain because of their experience and lessons learnt within the industry. However, our transformation has uncovered a distinct lack of soft skills and contemporary process management expertise. We need to develop our own people through training, exposure to industry best practice and higher education. We have identified a critical need to cultivate our leadership, frontline management and competitive manufacturing abilities across all levels of the organisation.
Every year the Leadership team review the current state of the business and plan for the future. (5 years long term plan). During that review, workforce planning and development play a key role for the future of the company. Area Managers identify gaps in their own areas, analyse the effectiveness of previous development strategies and assessed validity and currency. Then, resources are allocated, and commitment acquired from all stakeholders (e.g. Frontline Managers and supervisors) to ensure the progress of the plan. With the newly created position of “Continuous Improvement (CI) Manager”, Darwalla added an extra resource to support its development programs. The CI Manager has been already supporting the delivery of the current Cert IV program and has been vital in the review and restructure of the dual certificate.