Skill shortages in the UK agricultural job market are a strange phenomenon given how integral the industry is to the country’s overall functioning. However, it is a reality the industry is currently facing - now more than ever.
We are privy to the changes because, as agricultural recruiters, we constantly work towards matching a candidate’s skill to job offerings to improve the chances of people getting employed in a suitable role. To understand the existing situation, we need to explore why the skill shortages are occurring and find the best possible solutions.
Key Skill Requirements in the Agricultural Sector
Whilst there are a variety of skills needed to succeed in the agricultural sector, some are more significant than others. Following are the most in-demand skills that the industry has the highest shortage for:
1. Knowledge-Based Problem Solving
Knowledge-based problem solving is a vital skill at all position levels of farming and agriculture. It requires the employee to utilise their knowledge of the field to critically analyse a particular issue arising during work and develop a solution to overcome it.
Simply calling it problem-solving would be inadequate because the skill needs people to have farming or agricultural backgrounds to be effective.
Agricultural jobs require high adaptability from their employees because the working conditions are often changing. Without understanding how different the climate and farm conditions can get, employees are less efficient, get easily overwhelmed, and need more intervention from experienced personnel.
3. Technical Skills
Aside from the world becoming a technology haven in general, farming and agricultural jobs need employees to have technical skills to operate farm machinery. Farms and agriculture have become increasingly technologically advanced in the past few decades.
Hence, all farmers, livestock managers and farm managers need to have the required technical skills to operate the farm-related machinery to get the job done.
4. Specialised Skills
Specialised skills refer to the specific skills needed for the unique agricultural field you choose to work in: horticulture, calf rearing, flock managers, fieldwork, etc. The drop in the overall number of applicants with agricultural backgrounds is weakening several divisions simultaneously.
Reasons for the Skill Shortages
There is a comprehensive list of reasons for the skill shortages in the UK agricultural job market, which will only become more extensive without active measures to solve the current problem.
1. Low Pay and Associated Value with the Profession
Two critical reasons for skill shortages in the UK agricultural job market are the impression of the field and the poor compensation model for people who work in it.
Associated Value with Profession
Despite the industry being one of the oldest in the UK and needing specialised expertise, there is a general lack of respect for the work farmers perform.
Unless the professionals are scientists or at management level positions, they are not respected for their knowledge and expertise.
Farmers are severely under-compensated given the long hours of work, the working conditions, and the perseverance required to do it day in and day out. The Government also acknowledged the underpayment in light of the recent shortage of workers and urged businesses to improve their compensation models and introduce attractive pay scales.
2. Difficult Working Conditions
Since farming and agriculture work is mostly done in the open air, the people of the industry are exposed to external elements all year round. The most exposed are the field workers, but farm managers, estate managers, supervisors, etc., also spend a significant part of their time outside.
It does not matter if it is raining, there is a heatwave, or if the weather is excruciatingly cold - employees need to continue working and meeting quotas since the industry is still improving working conditions for them.
Brexit is a major contributor to the skill shortage since a significant percentage of agricultural workers were people from all over the EU. Since Brexit stopped the free movement between EU countries and Britain, most workers went back to their respective countries and are no longer returning.
The Government has introduced relaxation policies to cater to people employed in the country; however, it has done little to get farmers and field workers to return to their occupations.
4. COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic was devastating for most industries but especially for essential workers. Since farming and agriculture are responsible for ensuring a regular food supply, employees had to continue working even when the pandemic was rampaging through Britain.
The high risk of exposure, inadequate medical assistance, and existing shortage of workers allowed the virus to affect several employees. It also worsened their mental health, resulting in a widespread crisis that needed proper intervention to keep it under control.
5. High Risk and Climate Change
On top of everything, some parts of the job can be high risk without adequate precautions, with climate change worsening the situation. The industry is currently working on adapting the working conditions to the changing situations and providing the necessary support to keep workers safe.
However, given the skill shortage and low applications rates, the transition is proving to be challenging.
Finding solutions for skill shortages in the UK agricultural market is a lengthy process; however, improving compensation and working conditions are the first steps. The industry also needs more talent to join the industry and have the workforce plan and implement changes to improve the industry. As a country we need to be attracting more young people into agricultural careers.
Hence, there is a high demand for young talent, with companies offering attractive packages to mitigate the skill shortage.
Overall, there are several reasons for the skill shortages in the UK agricultural market, some of which are new, while others have persisted for some time. The only way to tackle them is to work on the proposed solutions.
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