Nov 7, 2022
PickTrace labor management expands services

A labor management company that offers fresh produce industry growers a digital solution for time, attendance and productivity tracking of employees has expanded services to ease hiring and payment processes.

PickTrace, Glendale, California, first offered its services to fruit and vegetable grower-shippers eight years ago, focusing on labor management workflow in fields and orchards. CEO Joel Zemer said the company has remained true to that mission, but constant updates have added functionality to allow PickTrace customers to analyze the productivity of a workforce at a deeper level, to allow employers to understand more about their largest expense: labor.

“We’ve always kind of remained focused on this notion of time, attendance and productivity tracking of the workforce,” Zemer said. “When we zoom out and really look at what the growers are doing across their broader labor management workflow, at the very start of it, they’re doing a lot of recruiting and sourcing efforts to acquire that workforce – whether that’s through an H-2A program, whether that’s through leveraging domestic field labor, and building out networks to acquire that labor.”

The traditional steps in the hiring process are cumbersome, he said, from getting the proper documents – including Forms W-4 and I-9 – to disseminating paper packets full of company information, in many cases requiring employees to fill out the same information multiple times. Employers have told Zemer that inefficiency in the hiring process is a major deterrent to potential field workers, who get frustrated by long lines on hiring days.

“We’ve introduced a system that’s moving us earlier in the management workflow, that digitizes the whole onboarding experience,” Zemer said. “We can capture the information in Spanish, in all the data fields we need to gather, including tax information, EEOC information, government ID … and then populate that onto an I-9 and W-4, and they can electronically sign it.”

He said PickTrace can cut the onboarding process from 20-30 minutes down to a few minutes for each employee.

“Once we have that information, we’re also natively integrating that into their payroll systems, so there’s no duplicative data entry,” Zemer said. “We’re also taking that information and automatically populating it into our time, attendance and productivity platform.”

PickTrace PayCard

Another new service being trialed now with full implementation planned by the end of the year is the PickTrace PayCard, which replaces paper checks. Zemer said the majority of growers use printed checks, requiring paper and printing, and often a trip to the fields and orchards to distribute the checks.

Now the funds are automatically loaded onto the cards. Zemer said about 80% of the workforce does not have credit or debit cards, and rely on check cashing services that charge 2-3%. That’s often followed by a trip to Western Union or similar cash wiring service, to send money to family in other countries.

“Through our mobile app, that employee will have the ability to send money from the card to Mexico as a cash pick-up or directly into an account, at a far reduced fee structure than Western Union or MoneyGram, as well as at a far superior foreign exchange rate.”

The PickTrace model

Zemer said the company’s roster of clients are all fresh produce companies, of which there are “hundreds,” with tens of thousands of employees in the PickTrace system. Half of the Washington apple, pear and cherry industry are clients, he said, and some of the largest citrus, stonefruit, table grape and mixed vegetable growers on the West Coast use the service.

The core function of PickTrace, the ability to track time, attendance and productivity, enables growers to use real-time data gathering via the cloud to make decisions to optimize efficiency during harvest, thinning or a number of different field tasks.

While the ability to track labor to that degree is an advantage during normal harvests, Zemer said PickTrace was instrumental in 2020, as daily work rosters were wildly changing with employees entering or completing lockdown because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It became much more important to understand in real time the pace at which the workforce that you do have is moving, and how you allocate those resources in a way that’s going to put the business in the best position to maximize the amount of fruit you can harvest,” Zemer said. “Instead of having a crew running in a block that doesn’t have the urgency to be harvested now, how do you pivot those people to a block that actually does need to be harvested now?

“Or do you have the people in the block that are moving fast enough that are going to get it off the trees in the next two to three days?” he said “We saw a lot of growers deeply analyze the pace of their workforce, but also the projected man hours needed to complete a block and looking at those projections and then allocating resources appropriately to deliver to meet those projections.”

Crew leaders are also finding their day isn’t prolonged in the field as they wrap up paperwork and other administrative tasks, or don’t spend time on Sundays consolidating time cards and sending reports to accounting or human resources, he said.

The system eliminates the need for banks of filing cabinets to hold paperwork , and improves the ability to prove compliance during audits and inspections, Zemer said, with all reports and paperwork digitized and searchable.

“One of the recurring themes with PickTrace is it is driving paperless processes and removing paper from the operation,” he said.

Ag-tech award recognition

PickTrace was named a recipient of a 2022 AgTech Breakthrough Award, in the Labor Management Solution of the Year category. The awards program recognizes the achievements of ag-tech companies and solutions in categories including farm management, indoor farming, automation, robotics, analytics and more.

“As growers experience a continued rise in labor cost, the industry has been challenged to understand how they can effectively manage their rising labor cost, remain compliant and drive a profitable growing operation,” said Bryan Vaughn, managing director of AgTech Breakthrough, in a news release.

— Chris Koger, managing editor

Graphic: PickTrace has added hiring/onboarding and payment functions to the core time, attendance, tracking and tracking functions that have been part of the company’s offerings when it entered the market eight years ago. Courtesy PickTrace

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