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Skilled workforce holds the key to farming's future

20th Jul 2019 / By Alistair Driver

Calls for future farm funding to be targeted at improving the skills of the agricultural workforce have been welcomed by the Skills Leadership Group (SLG).

The RSA Food, Farming and Countryside Commission published its report this week, with the headline recommendation being a 10-year transition to an agroecological system of farming to help meet the various challenges facing the food industry, from climate change to unhealthy diets.

While some of the report’s contents, which have received cross-party support, have raised some eyebrows within the farming sector, its stance on skills has been widely welcomed.

The report says the Government should invest in skills and infrastructure, rather than specific projects. “Whereas project-based funding tends to overpromise, underdeliver and overspend, investment in skills and infrastructure builds long-term capacity and can help kick-start the regenerative economy,” it states.

The SLG, which includes former NPA chairman Richard Longthorp, is developing a new industry-wide skills strategy. It said a highly skilled workforce would lie at the heart of delivering a sustainable future for agriculture.

Skills Leadership Group Chairman, Helen Woolley, said: “The SLG would welcome the opportunity to work with the Food, Farming and Countryside Commission (FFCC) on both attracting people to our industry who have the diverse interests and aptitude that the agriculture and horticulture sectors will need, and to drive forward the skills agenda needed to future-proof the sector and achieve the FFCC vision.”

Maintaining and enhancing skills and encouraging people to enter the industry is going to be critical for the pig sector, with Brexit likely to restrict access to EU labour.

Richard said: “The FFCC report calls for a radical shift based on ambitious objectives, all backed up by practical actions and solutions. This is the primary focus of the SLG, a top-down approach in influencing policy and legislation for agri-skills.

“And a bottom-up approach in creating pathways, toolkits and effective marketing to engage the existing and new entrants to food and farming.”

He pointed out that the work of the group is nothing new for the pig industry. "We launched our own skills strategy, 'From Sustainability to Sustained Ability', in January 2006 and as a direct result have a comprehensive suite of training programmes, which can be viewed here, the flagship of which is the Professional Manager’s Development Scheme.

"PMDS is now available across all AHDB sectors and has an ever increasing waiting list of applicants. We also critically have our own Skills Development Manager, originally Tess Howe (who now oversees all AHDB skills work), and now Samantha Bradley.

"Proof if ever it was needed that the 'liddle ‘ole pig industry' definitely punches above its weight and, notwithstanding its detractors, is usually at the forefront of progress! We should be bloody proud."

The new skills strategy for agriculture and horticulture production will focus on delivery in three core work streams:

  • Creating a professional framework relevant to the needs of employers in the future.
  • Development of clear career paths and fresh approaches to recruitment
  • Mechanisms to encourage continuing professional development and business support

About SLG

The SLG is an industry coalition, which came together to develop a strategy to recognise existing skills and develop a professional framework for the agricultural workforce. The group consists of key organisations and stakeholders across the food chain.

Skills development has been recognised as a key factor to bridge the UK agricultural productivity gap to other nations, with less than 35% of UK farmers having any formal management training.

The group aims to improve recruitment into the industry, build a positive image for the industry and push for wider CPD and recognition. The group's members are: 

  • Helen Woolley – Skills Leadership Group Chairman
  • Richard Longthorp OBE – Yorkshire farmer
  • Dr David Llewellyn – Harper Adams University
  • Simon Gadd – National Farmers Union
  • Oliver Lee – Farmer
  • Jane King – AHDB
  • Caroline Povey – Defra
  • Janet Swadling – Former SRUC CEO, AHDB Board Member
  • John Shropshire OBE – Chairman, G’s Fresh
  • Beverly Dixon – Group HR Director, G’s Fresh
  • Guy Smith – NFU Deputy President
  • Matthew Naylor – Managing Director, Naylor Flowers
  • Tess Howe – AHDB.