by Debbie Lieberthal

Seeds to a better future

To remain globally competitive, the agriculture industry will need skills and resources to survive, adapt and grow

Securing adequate and skilled labourers in vital for Africa's agricultural productivity
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The agriculture industry faces a range of challenges including climate change and global food shortages, which are increasing the labour and skills needs in agricultural industries.

Securing an adequate supply of suitably skilled labour is vital in optimising Africa’s agricultural productivity. Improving the skill level of the agriculture workforce is essential to enhancing innovation, strengthening competitiveness, boosting resilience and developing a larger capacity for the agricultural industry to capitalise on opportunities and contribute to global food security.

Impediments to meeting the industry’s skills shortages include low levels of industry participation in education and training, low numbers of undergraduates and graduates in tertiary agriculture courses, poor awareness of agriculture career pathways, and the limited capacity of the current education and training system to deliver innovative training solutions.

Although the government, industry, education institutions and career service providers are responding to labour and skills shortages in agriculture at national, state and regional levels, the approaches are somewhat fragmented and unco-ordinated.

Given the complexity of the agriculture workforce, skills and training issues, a strategic and integrated approach between the government and industry is crucial to addressing these issues.

Challenges such as the global financial crisis, food security and climate change have created some uncertainty about future labour market trends, but the skills and labour demands of the agriculture industry are expected to grow – particularly given the long-term demographic trends.

In addition to this, the seasonal labour demands and remote or regional employment locations inhibit the provision of attractive and competitive full-time employment and salary packages. 

Agriculture is perceived as an industry that is prone to disasters and heavily reliant on government assistance; it has low prestige due to the common belief that agricultural employment is necessarily manual labour with limited (if any) skill requirements, the limited education about agriculture, which has led to an emerging generation of adults who do not appreciate the importance of agriculture to the national economy, or the nature of agricultural careers; the awareness of agriculture career opportunities within the industry may not necessarily result from a lack of available information about careers, but rather difficulties in appropriately targeting the information.

To remain globally competitive, the agriculture industry will need skills and resources to survive, adapt and grow. Enterprises should develop skills in leadership, advocacy and training as well as technical and management skills.

Other skills such as international markets, risk management, strategic thinking, negotiation, decision-making, financial planning, human resource management, environmental management, governance, strategic planning, administration including human resources, financial management, legal matters, income generation, diversity development, partnerships and collaboration as well as evaluation are becoming increasingly important.

The majority of producers still see their primary responsibility as being to oversee workers performing set duties on the farm, with little or no consideration or responsibility taken for other employer/employee aspects such as performance management and staff development etc. 

Poor management skills of farmers (e.g. poor communication, lack of feedback and recognition of achievements) fail to create a work environment that engages employees or encourages them to develop their skills and follow a career in the industry. This results in high staff turnover and a loss of knowledge and skills from the workplace.

There is an increasing need for employers to develop and implement appropriate workforce planning strategies within their enterprise. There is little evidence of these skills within the agriculture industry. This places employers and businesses at risk of not managing issues such as the ageing workforce, fluctuating labour markets and changing service demands.

Securing an adequate supply of suitably skilled labour is important for optimising Africa’s agricultural productivity and output. The workforce not only needs to be large enough to enable the industry to remain productive and competitive, but it must also have the right skills and training to allow the industry to grow and improve its performance by becoming more innovative and responsive to change.

Greater industry ownership and responsibility is essential to attract new entrants, and retaining quality staff is as important to its future growth and productivity - as is its economic survival and market development.

Industry’s own actions will have the greatest impact on addressing agriculture workforce issues. As such, industry must continue to take responsibility and ownership for attracting people to the industry and for ensuring their career development. Industry needs to take a more active role in promoting agriculture and career opportunities in agriculture.

Producers should be advocates for the industry by delivering positive messages about working in agriculture. Producers should be encouraged to have a greater involvement with schools, other education institutions and communities, and to participate in career expos.

There is considerable effort and resources being put into understanding and responding to workforce skills and training issues in agriculture. There is also a clear commitment from industry and the government to address these issues.

A more strategic and national approach is needed, which would enable the development of a long-term strategy and which would require both industry and the government – at national, state and regional levels – to be engaged in and help deliver.

 

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