Kiel staffing business helps farmers fill jobs

By Tim Froberg

Filling agricultural jobs in a robust labor market can be a headache for farm owners. But instead of reaching for aspirin, Bruce Schmidt reaches for his phone.

The Brillion dairy farmer said a call to Agristaff USA usually solves his problem.

The Kiel-based company is a comprehensive labor-service agency that specializes in employee placement and human resource management for businesses in the agricultural, manufacturing, food processing and cleaning industries.

What makes the company unique is that in addition to finding workers for jobs that are often difficult to fill, Agristaff USA provides bilingual training and translation services — along with safety training and a variety of HR services.

“They’ve been a very good part of our management team,” said Schmidt, co-owner of Grand View Dairy. “They’ve helped us a lot in finding employees, and we tried a lot of different places where we didn’t have much success. Milking positions are tough to fill, especially when you run three shifts. They give us a different avenue.”

Agristaff USA is a small, but emerging company driven by Frankie and Becky Rodriguez, co-owners and founders. Agristaff helps farms fill general labor jobs such as milkers, herdsmen, feeders and cow pushers, along with positions requiring greater expertise such as operational and middle-management. 

“Right now, the shortage of employees, especially for farms, is really great,” said Frankie Rodriguez. “There is a demand for good help on the farm.”

Founded four years ago, Agristaff works closely with economic groups in Manitowoc and Sheboygan counties to help local businesses fill openings through its advertising, recruiting, screening and interviewing efforts. It uses a personalized approach to find the right fit for the job and works connections throughout the state and country to find employees that fit employers’ needs.

“The biggest need we’re seeing on farms is mostly with milkers and general laborers,” said Becky Rodriguez. “We really try and find people who care about the job. People who care about the cows and have the passion and understanding of what the job is really about.”

Frankie Rodriguez, who serves as the placement specialist, spent most of his childhood on a horse farm in Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, before moving to New York, where he worked for a staffing firm after high school and developed a passion for the industry. 

Becky Rodriguez – the operations manager – is a New Holstein native who graduated from Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio, with a degree in equestrian facilities management. She is a board member of the Kiel Area Association Chamber of Commerce and was a 2016 recipient of Lake Erie’s Distinguished Young Alumni Award.  

“Frankie and I have worked together since we met while working on a farm,” said Becky Rodriguez. “What works for us is that we combine our strengths and work together and kind of spin off one another.”

Agristaff has three additional employees and won the 2016 Rising Star Award, presented by the Progress Lakeshore business group in Manitowoc County. The award recognizes small businesses that use creative ideas, products and services to grow their companies and boost the local economy. Agristaff has seen a substantial increase in clients since opening its doors and recently opened a second office in Appleton.

“We always try to make sure we’re growing organically,” said Frankie Rodriguez. “We want to make sure we don’t bite off more than we can chew. It’s important for us to focus on the quality of our work, rather than just expansion. Our growth has been a little surprising and we’re grateful. We want to make sure we’re not only helping farmers, but helping people find work.”

The latter is the most satisfying part of the job for the couple, and the thank yous occasionally come on a plate.

“When we get a call or a text from a worker who we helped get a good-paying job, that’s really gratifying,” said Frankie Rodriguez. “Sometimes, they’re so thankful they’ll bring us tamales or tacos. That means a lot to us.”

The company also examines SOPs (standard operating procedures), manuals, evaluations and practically everything related to HR. But filling jobs with qualified and eager workers is what Agristaff does best.

“It’s really awesome to be able to change people’s lives,” said Becky Rodriguez. 

“We have a workforce relocation program where we’ve been able to bring people in from Puerto Rico and other areas that have gone through tough times and bring them to calm, quiet Wisconsin where they can have a good job. Plus, it’s gratifying to help some of the farmers solve their problems.”

Improving communication between the employers and employees is a big part of the job for Frankie Rodriguez, who is bilingual. His fluency in English and Spanish, along with his mediation skills, can usually clear up any misunderstanding between employers and employees. He can also train Hispanic employees in their native language. Frankie Rodriguez previously served as the Fox Cities Regional Director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce and works closely with the Mi Pueblo Hispanic Community Center in Manitowoc and Casa Espana in Appleton.

“A lot of farmers call me with what are sometimes simple problems between them and the employee,” he said. 

“I’m able to provide that communication between the two and squash whatever problem there is. Communication is huge in the dairy industry, especially when it comes to details.”

Brian Micke, manager of Zahn’s Farms in Gillett and former owner of Micke Dairy, doesn’t hesitate to contact Agristaff whenever he’s trying to fill a position or solve a company problem.

“They’ve helped us find employees through recruiting and have helped with employee meetings, translation at employee meetings and just about everything HR-related,” said Micke. “They have been a great resource not just for us, but for our employees as well. Everything is kind of hard to fill right now and they’ve been very valuable to us.”

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