Will we have enough seasonal workers? How to forecast and track for certainty

How many people in your business are asking you, “will we have enough seasonal workers to start when we need them?” And how often do they ask you? The answers we generally hear are—too many and too often!

If you are the person responsible for hiring seasonal horticulture workers, the pressure can be intense. The competition for good workers is fierce and the success of the business can rely on having enough workers at the right time doing a quality job.

Experience tells you that you’re not likely to have enough workers. But you don’t want to be spending your time in the weeds counting contracts and juggling start dates. Your time will be much better spent out attracting workers and staying connected with them to ensure they turn up.

In this post, we’ll set out some simple tips for forecasting and tracking so that you can get ahead of what your business will need. We’ll cover how to get input from the right people and then how to easily track against the numbers (like the chart above). This view will enable you to work out where and when you need to focus your efforts. For instance, do you need to attract more workers or just get the ones who have applied to sign their contracts?

What we'll cover:

What is forecasting?

Forecasting is simply estimating:

  • how many workers you think you will need

  • what roles they will need to fill

  • roughly when they will need to start and end work

You can do forecasting up to six months in advance. Returning workers can be secured up to five months before work starts, so once you have sorted out the numbers you need, you can start contacting them to lock them in.

What is tracking?

Tracking is when you record progress against that forecast. As you are hiring, you’ll be counting how many workers you have signed-up for each role and how many more you need. This enables you to answer that critical question: “Will we have enough seasonal workers?”

Your tracking will be valuable in the lead-up to work starting, but it is equally important in the first month of work as this is when you’re likely to get the most drop-off of workers. You’ll need to know how many additional workers are needed so you can keep the workforce topped-up.

How to forecast seasonal labour

There are two main parts to forecasting:

  1. The data you need

  2. How you come up with the numbers

What data do you need for forecasting?

You can forecast seasonal labour by role eg. thinner, picker, packer, tractor driver.

Then for each role, you need:

  • An estimate of how many people are needed

  • Rough start dates (this will be dependant on crop readiness and you may have a couple of main start dates to stagger the inductions)

  • Rough end dates

How do you come up with the forecast numbers?

  • The one thing you can count on is that the numbers will change. So don’t spend too much time trying to get accurate estimates. It is more important to pick a number (or a range) and get underway, than to spend time trying to get the perfect answer.

  • Use data from previous years—how many people did you have/need for each role?

  • Consider what will be different in the coming year—what’s changed?

  • Land size/number of blocks to be worked

  • Crop quantities due to growing conditions eg weather, disease

  • Crops types to be harvested

  • Mix of worker types available eg. more RSE workers, fewer backpackers

  • Automation eg. picking platforms

  • Make sure you add some on top to cover drop-offs. We’ve heard from growers that this could be between 5-10% but sometimes up to 20%.

Top tip for estimating: When asking for estimates, get people to compare, rather than come up with a specific number. For example: How many pickers did we have last year? Do you think we will need more this year, or fewer?

How to track seasonal labour recruitment

Similarly, there are two main parts to tracking:

  1. The data you need

  2. How to do the tracking

What data do you need to track?

For each applicant, it is essential to track:

  • Role they applied for

  • Name

  • Email

  • When they signed a contract

  • Date they can start

  • Date they can finish

  • Hours per week available

Extras that would also be useful to track:

  • Status of their application (eg. applied, offered a contract, signed a contract)

  • Whether they showed up when expected

  • Whether they are still actively working or have dropped-off

  • Source eg. RSE, local, working holiday visa (this can be useful when applying for RSE ATRs)

How to do the tracking

  • Keep it simple so the task itself doesn’t end up in the ‘too hard’ basket when things get busy

  • Do small, frequent updates so the paperwork doesn’t stack up and become an overwhelming task

Top tip for keeping your team up-to-date: Work out who needs to know what so you can regularly keep others updated on the progress of the hiring—so they stop bugging you! The forecast chart in our template can be a useful quick view for those who need to understand the status.

How to get started

We have created a template (in Excel or Google Sheets) that will give you a quick start to your forecasting and tracking.

You’ll see the data you need and some sample data to show you how the chart works. This will give you a clear picture of how many more workers you need for which roles.

  1. Download the free seasonal labour forecasting and tracking template

  2. Start by putting your roles into Column A of the Forecast sheet

  3. Work across for each role putting in the numbers to build up your forecast. Work with others in the business who can help with estimating the figures.

  4. Clear the sample data out of the Tracking sheet

  5. Record the details of any workers you have already hired

  6. Check the chart on the first sheet to see how many more workers you need for each role

If you want to take it further, we have also included a start date count and chart which will enable you to track how many workers you will have starting on which dates.

Top tips for forecasting and tracking seasonal labour

  • Get started early (up to 6 months in advance)

  • Don’t spend too much time on getting ‘correct’ estimates—everything changes

  • Be clear on the data you need

  • Small, frequent updates rather than one big job!

  • Think about the easiest way to update others who need to be across this. Can they also look at your tracking document when they want to know, or will you email a regular update?

We hope that this blog will help you to get on top of forecasting and tracking your seasonal labour this year. There is very little that is certain when it comes to seasonal recruitment, but with simple forecasting and tracking, you can ensure that your business knows where it stands and that you can focus your time in the right place.

If you’re looking for a way to really transform your seasonal labour forecasting and tracking, check out how PICMI can help.

How PICMI can help

With PICMI, you can:

  • Display and export data from last year—which roles, how many people applied, how many people signed up, how many people stayed and did the job.

  • Set a number of vacancies for each job which counts down as workers sign-up so you can easily see how many more you need.

  • Get visibility of where workers are in the sign-up process. Are they nearly there and just need a nudge to sign the contract or have they abandoned early and are unlikely to complete.

  • Collect all the information from a jobseeker about their availability and start dates.

  • Mark invitations, applications and contracts as cancelled (and so can workers) so you have a clear view of how many workers are progressing and/or likely to turn up.

Please book a free seasonal hiring consult—we’d love to find out more about your business and how the forecasting and tracking in PICMI can help you to answer the million-dollar question, “will we have enough seasonal workers?”