Farming Matters: Tess Howe - 'The industry needs better recognition of what it does'

The industry is evolving rapidly as policy, markets, labour supply and customer expectations change.

clock • 3 min read
Farming Matters: Tess Howe -  'The industry needs better recognition of what it does'

The industry is evolving rapidly as policy, markets, labour supply and customer expectations change.

It is increasingly clear the skill set that has seen us through the last 20 years will not be the same as those required to thrive in the future.

A professional, skilled workforce is vital to improving business performance across agriculture and horticulture.

However, for this to happen, the industry needs better recognition of what it does and for individual skills development to be implemented and integrated into businesses regularly.

Millions of pounds are invested across our sectors via research, innovation and tech transfer, yet to leverage maximum value from this investment we must have skilled and knowledgeable people at farm or site level to not only utilise the technology but also to understand what is best for the business and systems and how to effectively implement it in the business.

A lack of labour and or skilled staff is quoted across all sectors of agriculture and horticulture as a limiting factor to their productivity. In such desperate times, it is critical that we identify the current and future requirements, so we run our businesses efficiently.

Often described as hard-to-reach, and with most individual businesses employing four or less people, many agricultural and horticultural businesses do not have formal training budgets or plans. Where training does take place, this is most often in response to a direct need and focused on technical skills and/or to fulfil legislative/compliance requirements. Management training is often neglected, despite the potential it could have to improve a farm.

Barriers to training in agriculture and horticulture are both real and perceived. With limited labour or poor profit margins, it is easy to understand that time and cost are big barriers that are not easily overcome. However, for those that do step out of their comfort zone and take part in more structured, quality management programmes, the gains can often far outweigh the cost (time and money) to attend.

It is also widely understood that even if somebody knows exactly what they need, finding something local, relevant and at a suitable time can be hard. The fragmented nature of the current skills system makes engaging in training time consuming, frustrating and often unsuccessful.

While labour availability is low, we are seeing two things; an increase in wanting to attract new people and a realisation that farmers and growers, now more then ever, need to get the full potential out of their current staff and do all they can to keep them in the business.

The general perception of the industry as a low-skilled sector that you either grow up in or you fall into if you did not do well in school has been a barrier to attracting people from outside of the industry for years.

Now is the time we can all can work together to demonstrate the high standards farmers work to and the knowledge and skills that are required, so we can influence the influencers and change perceptions.

Interest in improving current staff skills is leading to increased attention on training and development.

It provides a prime opportunity to align various initiatives, new and old, by improving collaboration across the providers, allied industry, and the workforce to build a competitive and resilient industry through professional development.

The establishment of TIAH, an organisation that will essentially hide the wiring from the end user and make the process of engaging with skills development straightforward, will significantly help the industry.

For the industry to progress and increase productivity, it is vital everybody works together to dispel misperceptions related to careers, skills, and work to turn around the current poor engagement figures.

In addition to technical and business skills, mindset and behaviour change will be required to ensure we can adapt to the changing markets.

Only then can we become an industry renowned for its world-class staff and high levels of productivity.

  • To find out how you can be the change visit tiah.org

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