There is a strong imperative for coordinated action to address current and looming skill shortages in the wider agricultural sector, writes Luke Condon for The Allen Consulting Group.
A recent Senate committee into higher education and skills training to support Australian agriculture examined agriculture education, skill and workforce requirements. ACG has conducted studies which identified the existence of skills and labour shortages and the action needed to address them.
Agriculture is an important part of the Australian economy
Strictly defined, agriculture and agribusiness employ approximately three per cent of the Australian workforce (Skills Australia 2012). However, broader agribusiness extends far beyond primary production and it is estimated that up to one-in-six Australian jobs (around 1.6 million) depend on agricultural production (Grain Producers Australia 2012).
A shortage of skilled labour exists
Employment levels in on-farm agriculture have not been growing, however there is a shortage of skilled labour across the sector including agribusiness. Based on our studies and current projections, this problem is expected to get worse. Our studies show there have been declining enrolments in higher education qualifications in agricultural science and related fields, contributing to a shortage of qualified professionals in the agriculture sector.
A variety of factors contribute to skills and labour shortages
Causes of skill shortages in agriculture are related to both the supply of and demand for skills. These include:
- labour competition from other industries
- poor promotion of the industry
- an ageing population
- declining rural population
- low educational attainment
- population movement away from rural areas and
- technological advancement.
The age profile of the workforce is a structural factor that is significant. The on-farm agriculture sector is forecast to lose at least 30 per cent of its workforce over the next ten years, mainly due to ageing (AFI 2010).
Engaging the sector is challenging
Effective engagement between governments, education and training providers and industry is required if skills and labour shortages are to be addressed. The agriculture sector is, however, a complex sector to engage with. There are many sub sectors and these sectors are geographicallly dispersed. Skill and workforce requirements can vary between sub sectors and regions.
The need for an Agriculture Education Council
'Rebuilding the Australian Workforce' recommended the formation of the Agriculture Education Council to address these complexities. This has been endorsed by the Business/Higher Education Roundtable (BHERT). The concept also resonates with the recommendations of the Senate enquiry, which recommended the government facilitate the development of a national peak industry representative body for the agricultural production and agribusiness sectors.
Such a Council would facilitate communication between industry and education and training providers and ensure the supply of and demand for occupations and skills is effectively coordinated. The Council could comprise of representatives of higher education, vocational education, school science education, industry and government. The role of the council would be to finalise and implement an agriculture workforce strategy. The initial priorities for such a strategy are detailed in our report.
Australian Farm Institute 2010, ‘Towards a Better Understanding of Current and Future Human Resource Needs of Australian Agriculture’, June 2010, Surry Hills.
Grain Producers Australia 2012, ‘Submission to The Senate Education, Employment and Workplan Relations References Committee', Submission 44, p. 4.
Industries Development Committee Workforce 2009, ‘Workforce, Training and Skills Issues in Agriculture — Final Report', a report to the Primary Industries Ministerial Council by the Industries Development Committee Workforce, Training and Skills Working Group, Canberra, October 2009.
Skills Australia 2012, ‘Submission to The Senate Education, Employment and Workplance Relations References Committee, Submission 63, p. 4.
The Senate Education, Employment and Workplace Relations References Committee 2012, ‘Higher education and skills training to support agriculture and agribusiness in Australia'.
This article was first published at The Allen Consulting Group
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