Recruiting new blood into the industry is one of our biggest challenges, but a growing awareness of ensuring the workforce continues its development is also paramount. Farmers Guardian looks at why it can help with career success.
A greater commitment to improving ongoing skills training and development is crucial if the industry is to continue to be competitive.
Continued professional development for our industry is becoming an increasingly hot topic of conversation and one which requires collaboration as opposed to resistance.
Stuart Goodinson, managing director of De Lacy Executive Recruitment, believes the increase in the number of training schemes available is encouraging, but says we must see greater engagement.
He says: “The farming sector has traditionally been reluctant to invest in training, but the current environment means this must change.
“With the country close to full employment and with continued uncertainly on labour supply in the Brexit freefall, there will be a shortage of people looking to enter the industry, especially as the image of agriculture puts many candidates off.
“The focus must be on training and development, making people in the industry better equipped, more versatile and feel more appreciated. We need to change the mindset.
“All too often the attitude seems to be ‘what will it cost if I train someone and they leave’? This needs to become ‘what will they cost me if I don’t train them and they stay’?”
With agriculture becoming more technology-driven with increased access to data, those responsible for driving efficiency of production must develop skills to exploit opportunities.
Stuart is confident IT skills will continue to be in demand, but many companies cite staff management as another key area for development.
As businesses get bigger, successful operators will become people managers, managing a team of skilled technicians and being able to get the best from the team.
He says: “You will no longer be able to do every task better than anyone else. It will be about developing people with key skills and empowering them.
“This will mean embracing training and development, nurturing people you have so they are more invested in the business. Schemes now available start to address this issue and I would urge those employed at farm level to seek opportunities.
“However, the issue of training and development does not stop at the farm gate. To help farming businesses remain competitive, we need an agricultural supply trade that is equipped to support farmers and help get the most from new developments.
“This means training and development is equally important. Some businesses are already very committed to skill development and more businesses need to follow their lead.”
Carl Martins has been involved in dairy farming for more than 20 years and, since 2010, has been the owner of Mornios Contract Herdcare, providing a range of services to 150 customers nationwide, as well as offering training and consultancy.
He says: “Working at a management level on a vast range of dairy units, it is vital I have the technical skills to run the herd efficiently. Increasingly, we also get more involved in managing the farm’s own team, so need strong personal and staff management skills.
“Currently, I want to widen my skills to help with the contract herdcare business, but the end game is to run our own farm when I will need skills to run that business effectively.”
Carl is a long-standing member of the Institute of Agricultural Management and is looking forward to the start of its Farm Skills Programme this autumn, as he continues to develop his all-round business skills. He is currently undertaking a masters degree at Aberystwyth University.
All his staff are DairyPro-endorsed and he stresses the need to develop new skills because the industry is changing so quickly.
“The pace of change is remorseless, so anyone running a farm business must look to evolve themselves and learn how to make full use of technology and data. For example, social media is something farmers need to engage with. We already get 90 per cent of enquiries through Facebook,” he says.
“By covering subjects such as personal development, commercial awareness and risk management, the programme is about equipping farmers for the future and it will provide excellent networking opportunities.
“With delegates from many sectors, I am sure there will be a great deal of idea-sharing and problem-solving.”
When Tori Morgan joined 17 other participants on the Challenge of Rural Leadership course in January last year, little did she know that two weeks later she would be leaving Devon with a new-found network of friends, a honed set of skills and a new outlook on life.
After being given a local agrifood business to work on, the group was tasked to work as a team to critically appraise the business before producing a long-term strategy for it. Alongside visiting the site, the group developed its creative thinking, teamwork and pitching skills.
Part of the challenge was learning how to work cohesively and constructively as a team and each day was chaired by a different pair of participants, from directing time management to managing speakers and working with course directors.
The group spent time learning how to better handle difficult conversations and gained an understanding of how to present and deliver when faced with sensitive situations in a given career.
Tori says: “During the second week, we turned the mirror on ourselves, challenging the way we behave and interact with others and our personal leadership styles.
“During this time, we heard from some truly inspirational speakers, all of whom left us with their own pearls of wisdom from their leadership journeys.
“A personal highlight for me was the time we spent with Howard Petch. After a lively morning, the room was spellbound by Howard’s insights and a particular quote which stuck with me was ‘there is no point doing something right, if you are not doing the right thing’.
“We all left after two weeks with new-found confidence, enthusiasm and the necessary skills to manage and embrace the challenges ahead. “I think it is fair to say we arrived as 18 strangers, but left with a support network for life.”
Farmers Guardian has joined forces with 21 key industry stakeholders from across the farming sector to launch a new campaign, #ThisIsAgriculture, to promote careers in agriculture.
The challenge of recruiting is not a new one. Attracting new blood into the industry has always been an issue, with agriculture rarely sold as an exciting option into schools.
However, with the pace of technological change rapidly widening the skills gap and Brexit looming, the need to drive change within the industry has intensified greatly over recent years.
Building on the learning from the #ThisIsAgriculture survey, this initiative will work to educate the wider world about the wealth of opportunities available within the sector, as well as dispelling common myths about careers in agriculture.
We will also be collaborating with industry bodies and our industry partners to see where we can work together to shape the political agenda, drive educational reform and provide learning resources.
The campaign will also be sharing information with readers about how to attract – and retain – the right staff for farming businesses across the UK.