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New training body to drive improvements in agriculture skills and training

21st Feb 2020 / By Alistair Driver

The UK farming sector needs to embrace a new drive to recognise professionalism and train the industry to be fit for the future, according to a new report, which has recommended a new body to co-ordinate professional development. 

Skills picThe report by the industry Agricultural Productivity Working Group (APWG), which includes former NPA chair Richard Longthorp among its members, calls for several key measures to address UK agricultural productivity, which has stagnated compared to competitors overseas. 

With the issue taking on renewed significance in the wake of the Home Office proposals to stop issuing visas for so-called low-skilled migrant workers next year, the report seeks action from industry and Government to drive a positive change in mindset towards lifelong learning. 

The industry’s Skills Leadership Group (SLG) provided the recommendations as part of the APWG’s work for the Food and Drink Sector Council. The SLG is taking lessons from the work undertaken by the construction industry in the last 20 years to professionalise and improve its image to attract and retain talent. 

At the heart of delivering a highly skilled workforce will be the establishment of a new centralised professional body for everyone in primary production in agriculture and horticulture.

The new body will coordinate professional development with clear competencies required for different jobs, provide careers and recruitment advice, point to relevant training and business support.  It would bring together industry and academia and serve as the home for lifelong learning for all. 

The Government is supporting the recommendations to introduce policy mechanisms to incentivise and motivate farmers towards knowledge and training uptake.  It sees these measures as key to helping prepare the industry for the significant challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

Under-investment

The report says agriculture and horticulture employers have been under-investing in skills and people development for decades, leading to concerns about the industry's ability to attract and retain a capable workforce and tackle some of the biggest challenges of our time. It highlighted that only 40% of the industry staff have had any training with only 14% of this focused on improving management.

The UK has many excellent training providers, but they operate in a fragmented landscape, training is not always meeting the needs of employers and access to critical careers information is not readily available, it adds.

Skills Leadership Group chairman, Helen Woolley, said: “The industry can take this opportunity to embrace simplified access to training. The SLG has been looking into future needs and it’s vital we focus on meeting the requirements of employers.

Longthorp Countryfile“To support this new professional body further, changes in policy direction will help to encourage farmers and business owners towards further continuous professional development.”

Mr Longthorp, a Yorkshire farmer and chair of the Trailblazers Apprenticeships Employer Group, said: “This is the foundation and bedrock of any further initiatives we launch to improve productivity in agriculture.

"It is the chance we’ve been waiting for to reposition a fragmented sector, as modern, highly-skilled and a career prospect.”

He recently made a strong case for better skills and training in agriculture during a Countryfile feature on the subject. 

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