Published: 13 Jul 2018
The shortage of skilled workers in the Tasmanian agriculture sector is well known, but people talk much less about the quality of workplaces. Researchers from the Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture (TIA) are suggesting that many businesses should look at steps they can take to attract skilled labour into agriculture.
Social Researcher, Dr Carolina Garcia, is part of the team working on TIA’s TasAgFuture project. She is analysing the results of 100 interviews conducted recently with food producers and processors across the State.
The project aims to find out how Tasmanian food producers and processors are currently operating, how they see the future, and what constrains and enables them to achieve their goals.
“A lot of people we’ve interviewed talked about the challenges of finding good staff who have skills, but more importantly are willing and able to learn and commit. Others don’t seem to see this as a problem. Instead they describe it as a challenge or something that motivates them,” Dr Garcia said.
“A sizeable minority of the people interviewed in the research talked about looking after their staff as a big priority. A key word here was ‘mentoring’. For this cohort, supporting staff to build their skills, knowledge and interests is key to creating a fun and interesting place to work,” she said.
As one sixth generation farmer put it:
“If employees are happy and then they work to their best ability, and I'm happy because everything's easy, and everybody's happy, and everything works the best. So it’s very important that people are as happy as possible.”
Dr Garcia said due to the sector’s growth over recent years and the increasing demands for staff, good employees were a top priority. Employers are competing for such staff.
One participant saw their success as hinging on good bosses and mentors:
“Having good mentors, I think has been the biggest thing… I have been very lucky that the employers or the managers that I've worked for have been really good.”
Dr Garcia said if the sector continues to grow, we will need to see an increase in efforts to build interest in agricultural careers at school, to show young people the huge variety of options and inspire them to get into agriculture.
“Just giving them access to getting into agriculture… just having the technology and the research at the moment, has enabled the kids to realise all the apps and things that we use,” a participant said.
TIA is already working with the Tasmanian Department of Education to develop teaching resources for schools to embed agricultural principles in science and maths classes from a young age.
“We need children to be exposed to agriculture in primary school, and then keep them engaged as they navigate their education pathway and make choices about future study,” said Dr Jo Jones, TIA Programme Lead, Learning and Teaching.
The TasAgFuture team are continuing to analyse results from the 100 in-depth interviews and will be sharing more findings as their work progresses.
People working in Tasmania’s agriculture and food sectors are invited to have their say in an online survey this month. Survey participants have the chance to win one of three iPads.
Published in The Advocate and The Examiner on 13 July 2018 and in the Tasmanian Farmer August edition