Skills shortages bite food producers

A government report has revealed widespread skills shortages across the agriculture sector, prompting fresh calls to secure workers.

The National Skills Commission’s Skills Priority List showed a “significant tightening in the Australian labour market”, with the lowest unemployment rate in decades, and shortages were facing most parts of the agriculture industry.

NSW Farmers workplace relations chair Chris Stillard said a growing population – both in Australia and abroad – meant a growing need for food, and therefore a growing need for workers. But he said there was also a need for government to better understand the important role agriculture plays.

“Everyone you talk to in agriculture either needs workers or knows someone who does, and that’s not going to get better unless we take direct action,” Mr Stillard said.

“The immediate solution is to make Australia a destination of choice for overseas workers who can fill those roles now, either short-term backpackers or medium term visa holders.

“Long-term, we need to look at designing suitable programs to develop the skills of Australians to fill these roles, because there are great jobs with great wages just waiting to be done.”

While some still think of agriculture as farmers driving around in tractors and milking cows by hand, Mr Stillard said the reality of modern primary production meant there were job opportunities from IT to engineering, applied sciences and working with animals. Once you took in the opportunities for value-adding and food processing, he said there were entire regional industries just waiting to take off.

“We saw a recent study that said four out of five primary school students think cows are still milked by hand, and that couldn’t be further from the truth,” Mr Stillard said.

“Modern agriculture is a really diverse industry and we don’t just have tractor drivers and stockhands any more, we’ve got mechanics and drone pilots and network engineers as well.

“People need to eat and agriculture is where that food comes from, so for future generations of Aussie workers they can be outstanding in any field while they’re out standing in a field!”

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