Last year, a Senate committee report identified that an agricultural skills shortage could hamper Australia’s ability to keep up with growing global demand for food and fibre.
The extent and nature of the shortfall varies from sector to sector. While larger corporatised farms might need more people with management and strategic skills, horticulturalists are more likely to be short of seasonal harvesting labour and many wine makers lack allied business skills such as marketing. Shortages also vary according to geographic location. In Queensland and Western Australia, for example, farmers and agribusinesses are in competition with the mining industry, where pay levels are generally much higher.
The encouraging news is that, for the first time in years, the number of students enrolling to study agriculture rose in 2013, and by a significant 15 percent. “We hope it’s the start of a trend,” says Nigel Crawley, Director of Rimfire Resources. “The challenge now is ensuring that all of these students complete their degrees and retain their interest in working in the sector. This is one area where we’re hoping Career Harvest will help.”
An online hub designed to encourage young people to consider a career in agribusiness, Career Harvest is sponsored by NAB Agribusiness and a joint initiative of Rimfire, the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture (ACDA) and the redhanded Communication Group. “This provides, for the first time, a comprehensive and detailed account of the exciting range of professional careers in agriculture, horticulture, animal production, fisheries and forestry,” says ACDA President, Professor Rick Roush.
A particular challenge is getting this information to people outside of the traditional farming areas.
“Agribusiness isn’t just about physically working on the land,” says Crawley, “As with any business, it has openings in areas like accountancy, human resources, marketing and sales but, if you don’t have a rural background, you may not think to look. Career Harvest aims to help young people across Australia to make informed decisions.”
Recruiting the right people
Successful, competitive businesses reflect the quality of their employees. When good people are in such high demand it’s vital that farmers take the recruitment process seriously.
“You need to be very clear what you’re expecting a new recruit to do,” says Crawley. “A comprehensive job description doesn’t have to be long and complicated but it should set out the responsibilities and accountabilities associated with the role. It should also show how the job fits into the organisation as a whole.”
If you’d welcome their ideas and suggestions, let them know. If you just want them to turn up, do the job and go home, make this clear.
“However keen you are to fill a job, there’s no point in employing someone who will quickly become dissatisfied and start looking elsewhere,” says Crawley.
You should also be ready to articulate your vision. “Farmers often have a real sense of what they want to do and where they want to go but you need to be able to express that,” adds Crawley. “It’s the only way to be sure that your goals and those of your employees are aligned.”
This article was originally published in NAB's Agribusiness View.