The ‘people factor’ in the future of the Australian grains industry

Labour is a key input for Australian grain production and the supply of appropriately skilled people for the industry is critical to the effective and efficient operation of the industry into the future.

The Australian Farm Institute (AFI) is undertaking a research project on grains industry skills training and people capacity-building activities. The Grains Research and Development Corporation has commissioned the AFI to undertake this research.

The research project aims to identify the most suitable ‘training and development activities’ for the grains industry to continually innovate and be internationally competitive. Examples of workforce training and development activities include training courses, networking platforms, industry competitions, scholarships and grants, and work exchange programs.

The AFI has completed a limited review of the literature on workforce training and development. The review found that there are two key elements for ensuring an adequate supply of appropriately qualified and trained people for the grains industry, which include:

1) Sufficient student participation in agricultural based courses and training programs.

2) Appropriate course and training program provision and capacity, which are aligned to the needs of the agricultural sector.(1)

The education system that supports the supply of people for the Australian grains industry includes schools, vocational education and training providers (VET) and higher education facilities (universities). Preliminary findings in the research project suggests that some parts of the education system are constrained due to a one-dimensional focus on training which does not accommodate the speed in which new technologies, new knowledge and new practices arrive and take hold within an industry. Subsequently, the speed of these developments in the grains industry has left some people continually playing ‘catch-up’ in their own job roles and this has led to skills deficits in the industry’s workforce.(2)

The research project is focusing on areas where there has been a shift in skills requirements within the grains industry workforce. Two examples of these shifts include labour resources required for large-scale farm businesses and non-family labour strategies for family farm businesses.

Large-scale farm businesses are increasingly looking to reduce investment in heavy plant and machinery and find labour saving efficiencies by engaging independent contractors for specific tasks. As a consequence, these developments are boosting the demand for contract services on grain farms which in turn is giving rise to a new generation of small businesses with specialised skills in contract work. Therefore, it will be important to identify the most suitable training and development activities that will assist farmers and independent contractors in meeting the future labour requirements of large-scale farming businesses in this research project.

The relatively smaller size of modern families and the fewer number of family members deciding to work on the farm full-time has also meant that farmers are increasingly hiring non-family employees. This has meant that grain farmers are having to learn and adopt new skills in people management. Therefore, it will also be important to identify the most suitable training and development activities that will assist farmers in this transition phase.

This research project will scope the benefits of training and development activities that are suited for grain farmers and farm workers as well as people working in grains industry research, development and extension. The research project will review the investment landscape of training and development activities being provided to the Australian grains industry workforce, and recommend if investments should be rearranged or if new investments should be made. The research project is set for completion by the end of
March 2015. 

References

  1. AECGroup (2010), Towards a better understanding of current and future human resource needs of Australian agriculture, Research Report, Australian Farm Institute, Surry Hills, Australia.
  2. Agrifood Skills Australia (2014), Environmental scan of the agrifood industry: lucky by design, Industry Skills Councils, Canberra, Australia.
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Images:  AWB, CAFNR Bradford Research Center in Columbia, CIMMYT, Mick Keogh