Australian Farms Face Shortage of Skilled Workers

October 30, 2013

Australian Farms Face Shortage of Skilled Workers

As the Tony Abbott government in Australia work out plans to enforce stringent norms for migration of skilled workers and struggles to block asylum-seekers from entering into the country, a study published by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA) last week, says there is an acute shortage of workers faced by the agriculture and food sector.

Dire shortage of skilled workers

A related report published in The Australian, profiles an agriculturist couple, the Smiths, involved in growing onions and carrots. The couple have a farm in which they grow 85ha of onions and 30ha of carrots at Bowhill, Adelaide.

The couple are keen to expand the operation; however, the lack of skilled workers, stops them.

Faced with the dire shortage of local workers, the Smiths have recruited from abroad. Two of the couple’s employees are from South Africa and have now taken up permanent residence in Australia.

"We, of course, looked locally first," says Ms Smith.

"But, failing that, we started to look overseas. There just aren't enough people in Australia that want to work on farms," she points out.

Need for a co-ordinating body

With the AWPA study findings released, Matt Linnegar, chief executive of the National Farmers Federation (NFF) says the report will add weight to their efforts to promote collaboration between educational institutions and agricultural firms, so as to build a long-term sustainable model to build a skilled local workforce. The NFF has been involved in developing the report.  

The study has made 13 recommendations based on its findings. The recommendations point out that there is an urgent need for setting-up a single national co-ordinating body for the agriculture and food industry, government, employee representatives and the tertiary education sector. The role of this co-ordinating body will be to provide guidance and leadership to develop workforce skill across several segments of the agri-food supply chain.

Accordingly to Mr Linnegar, a key challenge that the NFF faces in creating a capability development agenda is the non-availability robust and reliable data concerning the workforce needs of the agriculture sector.

The creation of a national co-ordination body will help in creating a workforce profile for the agriculture and food sector, which will aid experts to find solutions for the skill shortages faced by the sector, he feels.

Skilled migration list, a flawed approach

Our agriculturalist couple, the Smiths, profiled by The Australian, having failed to find someone locally, are again looking overseas to fill another position on their farm.

Their experience, points to a major flaw in the government approach to creating a skilled migration list.

"One thing I'm concerned about is that some of the skills we need on farms aren't met by the skilled migration list. We need someone who's had a lot of experience farming, who has those skills, not necessarily someone who has a qualification on paper, but it's very difficult to prove to the Immigration Department that someone has those skills," they say.


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