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Time to bridge the training gap

With farming often viewed as a career for life, the need to upskill employees to increase motivation or improve staff retention has become a widely accepted concept. Hannah Binns reports. 

But employers and employees from farming and ancillary industries have differing stances on training priorities, new data from Farmers Guardian’s This is Agriculture survey has found.

The survey was aimed at employers and employees to better understand their thoughts on the need to upskill and training opportunities available, with balanced representation from all sectors across the UK.

Attracting responses from 359 businesses, it highlighted a clear disconnect between employers and employees answering the same question, with a lack of communication evident about training demands.

Employees aged 16-25 said they were more likely to apply for a job with training opportunities compared to older job seekers who were less enthused.

But only 25 per cent of farm employers and 36 per cent of ancillary employers said they advertised training opportunities as a recruitment tool, a surprisingly low figure for an industry openly concerned about its skills gap.

Claire Morgan, a UK and international recruitment expert at Agricultural Recruitment Specialists, said job adverts which list training opportunities were seen as a ‘selling point’.

She said: “Candidates of all ages are looking for training opportunities and career development.

This is a question we always ask employers when listing a new job and often the answer is yes.

Yet 37 per cent of farm employees said they received no training days, with 13 per cent stating they had received one day and 17 per cent stating two, compared to 27 per cent of farm employers, who said they provided two training days and 14 per cent stating one to two weeks.

There is also a clear appetite for on-the-job training, with 85 per cent of farm employees stating they had received this form of training, while others cited seminars, conferences and events as other options.

But only 58 per cent of farm employers said this was a method of training, raising questions about what is actually classed as ‘training’


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Employees often see training as a formal ‘course’.
Employees often see training as a formal ‘course’.

Training

 

David Fisher, head of industry partnerships at Lantra, said: “Training may be defined or explained as ‘new skills’, CPD or refresher training, which validates skills and knowledge.

But employers may be referring to cumulative and ‘in-house’ training rather than individual days.

“Increasingly, we are seeing people engaging with e-learning in areas of legislation, ‘safe use’ and best practice, as this requires less time ‘off the tools’, which suits both employer and employee.” A farm employer responding to the survey added: “It is time-sensitive.

The farming calendar year means experience in certain aspects can only be gained once a year, for example shearing, lambing and tupping.

It could take three years for an individual to develop a good skill level.

“A lot of young staff are also given menial tasks at lambing and they do not gain crucial skills for a couple of years.” The picture was similar for ancillary businesses, with 26 cent of employees stating five training days and 16 per cent stating zero days, compared to 28 per cent of employers citing five days, 28 per cent citing one to two weeks and 16 per cent citing three weeks-plus.

Associated industries

 

However, there was also a bigger emphasis on external coaching (63 per cent) for ancillary employees, highlighting the growing role within agricultural associated industries.

Ms Morgan added setting personal, professional and business goals was a more productive way of identifying and measuring growth.

She said: “Employees often see training as a formal ‘course’.

However, coaching and mentoring is generally one of the most productive forms of training which is often not recognised by the employee as training.

"Candidates of all ages are looking for training opportunities and career development."
"Candidates of all ages are looking for training opportunities and career development."

Gaining qualifications

 

Employees also gained a range of qualifications with the help of their employer, the survey found.

Sixty-two per cent of farm employees had received certificates of competency, compared to 53 per cent of ancillary employees.

Mr Fisher said upskilling employees not only boosted confidence and helped them feel valued, but could lead to improved efficiencies in their day to day role.

He said: “Most training and assessment Lantra sees is linked to ‘proof of competence’, for example to evidence training in machinery operation such as tractors, ATVs or in preparation for Lantra’s industry and Health and Safety Executive recognised qualifications in pesticides and chainsaws.” But help with apprenticeships was less common among farm employees (16 per cent) and ancillary employees (9 per cent).

Of note, 88 per cent of those aged 55-65 had help from their employers in gaining qualifications compared to 43 per cent of 16- to 25-year-olds, which reinforces a move away from traditional routes into industry and perhaps more independent personal development.

Independence

 

In fact, 63 per cent of ancillary employees and 50 per cent of farming employees said they had gained skills independently of their employer, reflecting a desire to upskill themselves.

However, this seemed more popular among 16- to 25-year-olds (60 per cent) and 25- to 35-year-olds (62 per cent) than older employees.

While it reflects the ambitious and career driven nature of the next generation of employees that employers will need to incorporate in the future, its lack of uptake among 35- to 55-year-olds could be down to time and life commitments outside of work.

Key findings from the survey

For ancillary employees, top priorities focused on technical knowledge (48 per cent), leadership (14 per cent) and communication (10 per cent), but their employers ranked practical skills and technical knowledge as most important.

Only 25 per cent of farm employers and 36 per cent of ancillary employers said they advertised training opportunities as a recruitment tool.

A total of 62 per cent of farm employees had received certificates of competency, compared to 53 per cent of ancillary employees, while 20 per cent of farm employers highlighted health and safety as another priority, compared to 3 per cent of employees.

Employers thought finance (17 per cent), lack of time (14 per cent), and lack of ambition (12 per cent) were the main restraints to employee progression.

Top priorities for the future

Top priorities for the future

 

Going forward, practical skills, technical expertise and leadership were cited as top priorities for farming employees, at 38 per cent, 31 per cent and 8 per cent, respectively.

But 20 per cent of farm employers highlighted health and safety as another priority, compared to 3 per cent of employees.

For ancillary employees, top priorities focused on technical knowledge (48 per cent), leadership (14 per cent) and communication (10 per cent), but their employers ranked practical skills and technical knowledge as most important.

 

“As a small employer it is difficult to cover the costs and replace the labour while the person is away on the training”

Employer Respondant


Health and safety was less of a priority for ancillary employers, but this could reflect the less hazardous nature of those working environments as well as protocols in place.

Attitudes towards health and safety were also evident in the ages of survey respondents.

Only 2 per cent of 16- 25-year-olds cited health and safety as a top training priority, those aged 25-45 did not cite it at all, and 22 per cent of those aged 45-66 said it was important.

Reflecting on this, Farm Safety Foundation manager Stephanie Berkley said: “The next generation is more aware and starting to exhibit better attitudes and behaviours to health and safety.

“In the past five years, 57 of the 152 fatal injuries on GB farms have occurred in those aged over 65.

The challenge is now for this to filter upwards towards the older farmers to drive a real change.”

 

Progression

 

But for employees to achieve career progression, the survey revealed there are certain barriers to overcome.

Internal and external opportunities were the biggest barriers for farm employees (38 per cent) and ancillary employees (44 per cent).

But farm employers thought finance (17 per cent), lack of time (14 per cent), and lack of ambition (12 per cent) were the biggest restraints to employee progression.

One employer said: “As a small employer it is difficult to cover the costs and replace the labour while the person is away on the training.” Recognising farmers work hard and are often time poor, Ms Berkeley said any health and safety training needed to be real, relatable and resonate with the audience.

She said: “It needs to make financial and common sense.

We are working with 30 land-based colleges and universities across the UK to deliver our farm safety training and pre-placement sessions to agricultural students.

“We have also begun delivering training to vets, bovine TB testers, researchers and many more people who spend time on-farm to highlight the risks and hazards facing them, as well as suggesting ways to keep themselves safe.” The attitudes of ancillary employees around career progression were different again.

A total of 31 per cent of employers responding to the survey said it was down to a ‘lack of ambition’ among their workforce.

Who responded to the survey?

Who responded to the survey?

A total of 78 respondents were in permanent jobs and half have been in their current position for five years or more.

Those who said they worked in ancillary jobs tended to work for five to 10 years (21 per cent) and 20 per cent were in their first or second year.

There was a drop off at two to three years, which could suggest after a period of employment they take stock of their career and seek out new challenges.

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