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Farming the Future: The Impact of UX Research on Washington’s Labor Landscape

Case Study

Washington State Department of Employment Security

Farm worker loading picked apples into a bin
Anthro-Tech team members
Worker experience map

The Problem

Washington State’s Employment Security Department (ESD) plays a crucial role in job placement and economic growth. However, ESD’s way of hiring workers for seasonal fruit farms, particularly through the H-2A Visa Program, is bogged down by slow and complicated processes, making it tough to get workers to farms quickly when they’re needed. 

Farmers shaking hands in an apple orchard

The H-2A program assists American farmers hire temporary foreign workers, which is vital when there is a local labor shortage.

Crops like apples, berries, cherries, grapes, and pears are essential to Washington's agriculture, relying on manual-intensive labor for cultivation and harvest. Worker shortages or recruitment challenges directly impact farm productivity, food availability, and regional economic stability.

To address these issues, ESD collaborated with Anthro-Tech on a customer experience study, aiming to understand and enhance the recruitment process for farmworkers, growers, and employers.

The Solution

Anthro-Tech conducted an eight-month research project focusing on agricultural recruitment dynamics, engaging directly with farmworkers, growers, and employers to identify actionable solutions.

Through in-person research and focus groups, our UX Researchers highlighted the importance of community connections in farming and identified communication challenges. Employers expressed concerns about workforce stability, while farmworkers struggled to secure reliable jobs, indicating the need for simplified hiring processes. We crafted, tested, and refined journey maps, using visual aids to illustrate different perspectives and to help ESD stakeholders grasp the complexities. These findings were synthesized into a reference document for clarity and accessibility.

Agricultural farmworker experience map

Anthro-Tech crafted, tested, and refined journey maps using visual aids to illustrate different perspectives. 

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The Impact

Our evidence-based recommendations have had a significant impact, aiming to improve the recruitment process for everyone involved. Our recommendations involve clarifying ESD and its partners' roles, providing more resources and support to farmworkers, enhancing language assistance, and adjusting the recruitment system to fit the norms of workers and employers. 

These actions have strengthened connections among ESD, farmworkers, growers, and employers, bringing about positive changes and making recruitment in Washington State more efficient. Anthro-Tech's efforts, grounded in empathy and practicality, will create a smoother recruitment experience for all stakeholders.