A report released by the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA) on Australia’s food industry has found the industry needs more highly skilled workers if it is to capitalise on growth opportunities.
The Food and beverage workforce study finds our agrifood industry—including both agriculture production and food processing—is in transition, and needs to attract skilled workers to grow new export markets in the Asian region. T he industry employs approximately 553,000 people—and generates around 4% of Australia’s GDP and 11.5% of the value of exports.
The AWPA chair Philip Bullock said while Australia’s agriculture output continues to rise and contribute significantly to exports and the food and beverage processing sector was growing, the industry faced significant challenges.
Agriculture remains one of Australia’s most productive industries and food and beverage processing is now our largest manufacturing sector in terms of employment, However, the reality is that with limited potential to grow domestic markets, the future lies in us finding new customers in rapidly growing and highly competitive Asian markets.
He said that the ongoing restructure of the industry resulting in larger farms and the growing use of new technologies in the agriculture and food processing sectors is also requiring workers to have higher level skills.
Currently less than 40% of workers in agriculture and fishing and 45% in food processing have a post-school qualification, compared to Australia’s all-industries average of 62%.
National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) CEO Matt Linnegar said the NFF had worked closely with AWPA on the development of the report and its recommendations and welcomed its release.
People are the agricultural sector’s greatest resource, and ensuring we have a strong and sustainable workforce into the future is a priority, not only for the NFF and farmers, but also for the wider agricultural sector, as identified in our Blueprint for Australian Agriculture.
CEO of Agrifood Skills Australia, Arthur Blewitt, said the report provides further evidence that a cohesive ‘all-of- industry’ approach is needed to secure enough highly skilled people to position the sector and its enterprises to realise the opportunities available, and particularly those in the emerging Asian market.
The study says to meet future demand the agrifood workforce needs training to develop higher level skills: entrepreneurial, leadership, management, mentoring, and risk management skills; advanced production techniques; and ability to translate research and development into successful new products. It recommends:
- stronger and more coordinated national leadership to drive the agrifood industry workforce development agenda;
- establishing an agrifood career promotion strategy, to raise the profile of agrifood careers and attract new skilled workers;
- developing and using the skills of the existing workforce;
- encouraging more employers to invest in training;
- increasing industry involvement to ensure education and training is industry-relevant; and,
- increasing the diversity of the food workforce, by encouraging underrepresented groups into the industry.