In today’s competitive market each enterprise must have a strategy to source and secure employees. It is becoming increasingly difficult for enterprises to find suitable people as the workforce ages and other industries attract the workers we need.  Those businesses without a workforce plan will find it increasingly difficult to get the workers they need.

In this competitive labour market, we must become more professional in how we attract people, how we develop people and how we retain people. This is increasingly important as more young people drift towards the major cities leaving regional areas short of suitable candidates.

Having a planned approach, even a basic plan, makes a lot of sense as a good recruitment strategy combined with a good training and development plan directly improves operational efficiency and effectiveness, productivity gains and safety, as well as securing longer-term motivated employees.

Right now most agriculture and horticulture enterprises are experiencing difficulty obtaining suitable people for most roles. With the median age of employees in agriculture and horticulture now 55 years, we have a more immediate problem in securing people and developing these people for the more complex job roles with which we are now working.

It is affecting all jobs in the industry as individual enterprises have to adapt to a quality assured environment with more sophisticated management systems and new technologies. This means that all enterprises will now need to find suitable staff with the ability to be trained for more complex management and technical roles.

We also need to be mindful that succession planning is a critical component of developing skills and enabling the transfer of skills to younger generations.

A Workforce Development Plan

Unfortunately, the sector currently lacks a robust workforce development plan and appropriate attraction strategies to deal with this demand for individual enterprises.  This is currently being addressed by Potatoes South Australia and we expect that we will shortly be able to directly assist the industry in the development of such a plan through a funded project from the South Australian Government.

What we anticipate is that we will be able to produce an industry-wide workforce development strategy that will have a series of templates to assist individual enterprises structure their own plans.

Clearly the Workforce Development Plan will include strategies and templates to identify actual skill needs, relevant attraction options, methods of retaining staff and cost effective ways of improving the skills of the workforce.  This will be developed in conjunction with the largest growers and integrated companies and will focus on current and future skill needs.

A series of industry workshops will be run in the five growing regions for employers, HR managers and key personnel involved in recruiting workers for their businesses aimed at improving recruitment practices, employment incentives and skill development.   Funded through the Department of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology (DFEEST), it will also complement the Federal Government's AgriFood National Regional Initiative, which will drive local skills development across regional Australia in order to increase productivity in the agriculture, horticulture and aquaculture sectors.

The Board of Management of Potatoes South Australia Inc comprises directors from the major vertically integrated enterprises covering seed, growing, packing, washing and marketing.  These industry representatives recognise that the industry's most valuable asset is its workforce and that that the sector is confronted by a number of workforce challenges including the following:

  • An ageing workforce;
  • Competition for labour and skills from the higher paying mining sector;
  • A poorly marketed industry sector in terms of employment opportunity;
  • A workforce with lower levels of qualifications;
  • An increasingly sophisticated, highly technical workplace requiring a more highly-skilled and educated workforce;
  • An overall decrease in the intake of students into agricultural courses at secondary and tertiary levels; and
  • Demands from the marketplace for higher quality and lower prices.

Additionally, as most companies are located in regional and rural areas, attracting people to live and work outside urban centers has proven difficult. At present the industry has reported widespread shortages of the following:

  • Middle managers and supervisors;
  • Farm operations managers;
  • Agronomists;
  • Irrigation specialists;
  • Experienced machine operators;
  • Service personnel; and
  • Truck drivers.

The potato seed industry, with a large presence on Kangaroo Island and in the lower South East, also requires people with higher level technical skills related to seed production and biosecurity.

Ultimately, Potatoes South Australia will develop customised workforce training for the entire value chain; a first for a peak industry body. The steps will include:

Planning the workforce:

Providing a practical workforce planning approach for enterprises that will assist them source and develop employees during a period of further industry growth especially to meet quality and productivity targets.

Recruiting the skills:

Having job profiles and templates that can be used to secure skilled labour from the domestic and international market.

Developing existing workers:

The Workforce Plan will cover employee development programs through more formal structured training aligned with both current skill needs and the developmental needs of the enterprise. This will cover all workforce levels and aim to list the quantum and standard of training within each organisation.

Improving training delivery:

Most enterprises in remote regional areas are not well serviced by training providers (RTO’s). To overcome this we are looking at innovative ways that managers can be involved in the delivery and assessment of staff competency with RTO’s. This may mean that they can oversight components of the training and drive the program in line with the skill needs of their enterprises.

This will help enterprises implement a more sustainable training culture with ongoing support from training providers for more formal recognition of skills. It will also help formalise how business deals with training, particularly safety training.

Summary

In the more regulated market in which the potato industry operates, improving the skills of all personnel is essential in improving business performance and creating high performing enterprises.