A bumper harvest and new approach to workforce supply
A career in agricultural machinery sales and an after-work hobby led to Will Mitchell founding a burgeoning labour hire startup. WorksForYou matches university students and young athletes with casual, unskilled roles and recently played a major role in helping farms in New South Wales and ACT finish one of Australia’s biggest harvests in history.
As a college rugby union coach in Wagga Wagga, NSW Will Mitchell was always being approached by farmers, graziers, and local businesses in the region, keen to know if any of his players might want to make some extra cash in return for odd jobs.
“They’d call looking for young locals to come out and give them a hand with lamb marking or move hay to feed cattle,” said Will.
“In my day job in sales I had a strong business network in town, and it was really amazing how many people wanted access to these university students but didn’t know how because there wasn’t a system in place.
“Ultimately what we’re doing is what footy clubs have been doing for 100 years – setting up our players or workers with businesses and finding them work.
“I guess the difference between us and them, is that we’ve commercialised it and gone the whole hog.”
Cracking the farm labour formula
Since its founding nearly five years ago, WorksForYou has put more than 1,000 university students and young athletes into short term work between Canberra and Wagga Wagga and have paid more than $1.5 million in wages.
Will Mitchell is the Founder and CEO, running WorksForYou with two trusted managers – one each based in Wagga Wagga and Canberra.
He said while it may read like an overnight success, the company has overcome plenty of hurdles in their common-sense approach to filling vacancies.
“No doubt it’s been a hard slog. We started in drought, and we’ve gone through two waves of COVID-19,” said Will.
“It’s definitely not been easy but there came a time when we had to decide – do we jump in properly and start investing more money into it, or do we wait it out and see how Covid plays out?”
Ultimately, the decision to push through was based on the number of job-ready people WorksForYou had on its books.
“We didn’t get any government support through it, and we could have taken the easy option to pull the pin but I’m very glad that we didn’t, and we pushed through.”
Pushing through meant Will and his company found themselves on the other side of drought, and a bumper 2021-2022 harvest that left farmers reeling for lack of workers.
“We had up to 30 workers deployed out around Wagga and the Riverina area every day of the harvest and the jobs we were filling were everywhere and everything from small farms needing boots on the ground to research companies needing harvest data entered,” he said.
“It was really hard to find good staff for these operations and it’s not a problem that’s snuck up on us either, labour shortage has been a big issue for a while, but it was especially apparent during harvest.
“Larger companies, like GrainCorp are seeing our model and accessing it at times too because they need to be ahead of the demand. If they don’t have staff at the depots then they can’t receive the grain – but at the end of the day if you don’t have anyone taking the grain off in the first place, you’re in trouble.”
People-based business model
At its core, WorksForYou doesn’t work without people. People wanting to work, matched with people wanting workers.
But a business model like that only works if the workers are looked after, and the client is guaranteed to receive what they ordered.
“It also doesn’t cost them anything to sign up with us, and they can find work based around their study requirements or athletic requirements, which means they only take on the shifts they know they can commit to.”
It’s a model that works for the client too.
“It’s much simpler because there’s usually a task that needs to be done that, they know is going to take a certain amount of time and require a certain number of people, so it’s easy to budget for,” Will explained.
“There’s a trust factor there too that they know that we’re going to send them good staff and often they’ll ask for those good staff back again. We get it a lot, especially on farms. They might need them for a day or a week, and we do what we can to meet that request.
“For our workers too, they understand that the way they show up to each job, the more likely it is they’ll be asked back which instils a great work ethic in students.”
And according to Will, that makes them far more reliable.
“This model is built on trust essentially. And for our client, we’ve proved to them that our workers are going to rock up. We’re not perfect, of course there’s a human element, but we’ve done an analysis with clients that have used other labour hire in the past and asked them how it’s worked out.
“Most have told us that if they asked for 10 workers for a job, maybe only four or five would turn up. A 40 to 50 percent strike rate isn’t ideal and a business can’t run on that sort of instability. But when they use WorksForYou, we’re achieving 90 to 95 percent, and that sort of assurance is crucial for a farmer or a builder or a landscaper. They know they can rely on us.
“Over time we hope to see clients consider us as part of their business model, and it’s exciting because we’re seeing that businesses are adapting to what we do to a certain extent to make sure that their business flow and workloads fit in with us.
“We want them to look at us as a way to increase yield or take advantage of income opportunities, not as a cost. ”
A growth mindset
With some decent runs on the board, WorksForYou is looking beyond Wagga and Canberra in 2022.
“In all the different industries that we work with we understand that labour shortage is right across every state in the country which means there is certainly an opportunity for us to expand into bigger university towns,” explained Will.
“Newcastle, Wollongong, Bathurst, Orange – these are opportunities for us where we know there are students looking for work that suits their schedules.
“We know they don’t usually want to work at the pub on a Friday and Saturday night while all their friends are there having a beer – they’d much rather work if they can find a morning or a day or two during the week. It’s our job to make the connections with the universities now.”
And they’ve hit the ground running in 2022, with a new office at the Charles Sturt University campus in Wagga Wagga, NSW.
“This is great for us as a business – we’re debt free and have bootstrapped to this point– so we need to capitalise on these opportunities,” Will said.
“Having a bigger network of students ultimately means that we’ll have more staff to help solve some of the current workforce shortages, it is simply providing the opportunities to students and de-risking unpredictable workforce supply and demand for businesses.
“There’s no reason why we can’t go into Queensland or Victoria. It could be a pipe dream but if someone sees the value in what we’re doing, there’s no reason we couldn’t become one of the biggest employers in Australia.
“There’s every reason for us to expand on all the hard work that’s being done – we just need 40 hours in a day instead of 24 to get it done!”
To find out more about WorksForYou visit their website here.
Enjoyed this story? Want to learn more about the Asia Pacific region’s innovative agrifood tech ecosystem? Sign up for our newsletter here and receive fresh stories about global leaders, farmers, startups and innovators driving collaborative change.