According to DEFRA’s most recent Farm Business Income report, the UK’s agricultural productivity growth rate has plateaued since the early 1990’s and underinvestment in skills & training across the sector is a key factor, according to Tom Hind, Chief Strategy Officer at the Agriculture & Horticulture Development Board (AHDB).
Tom says, “We know that we are currently losing ground to our competitors. During the same time period, New Zealand, Australia, France, Germany and the United States have experienced productivity-powered growth.
“Increasing productivity is about being more efficient – getting more from less. Part of this is equipping a modern workforce with the right skills to be innovative and to carry on the UK’s tradition of creating dynamic, productive and inspirational farming businesses.”
“The financial impact of low productivity growth is that we lose our competitiveness relative to other countries who compete in our markets. We can’t shield ourselves from increasingly global competition therefore low growth in our productivity will also impact on our food supply chain and farming families over time.”
Developing skills requires investment
Developing and maintaining high skill levels requires commitment and investment. Time-poor farmers and growers may not prioritise their own skills and training, feeling they need to focus on the job in hand. They see calls for increased productivity as a demand to work harder and produce more for less money, without considering how training could help.
“Farmers’ concerns about what’s meant by growing productivity are understandable – it often feels remote & nebulous as a concept. But we need to change the culture to one that sees continuous professional development as part and parcel of being a farmer. And we also need to work together to provide a better framework that nurtures life-long learning.” says Tom.
“The establishment of the new Food and Drink Sector Council is a fantastic opportunity for the industry to come together as a whole to work on a number of issues, including how we equip, promote and provide the right training to achieve productivity growth. The Council is our best chance to influence cross-government thinking about skills and training in the industry.”
Promoting a culture of lifelong learning
Without a strategic approach to the acquisition of skills, there are no clear pathways for students who would like to work in the agri-food sector, or for farmers and growers who want to develop their skills while they work. The lack of a strategy has impeded the development of a culture of lifelong learning in the sector.
The AHDB is calling for a national skills framework and a new leadership group has been created to oversee the development of a national agri-skills strategy. A future skills framework would make it easy to identify skills providers and resources so that accessing them is straightforward. Employers should be able to identify the training their employees need to respond to a rapidly changing business and technology environment. A skills framework would also encourage the tracking and planning of career development pathways with world-class standards and aspirations.
AHDB research also shows a poor uptake of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) largely because provision of CPD training is fragmented and time available is limited.
Tom says, “I hope that training providers will develop innovative ways of delivering CPD training, so it can be accessed by busy people in rural areas. Our ‘farmer to farmer’ knowledge exchange programme is one way of doing this, but there are many more. We also need to ensure we’re providing skills that businesses will need in future – leadership, risk management, data analysis and so on.”
Access to the latest research and development
Evidence gathered by the OECD suggests that Research and Development plays a central role in productivity growth . Organisations like the AgriFood Training Partnership provide links between academia, industry and farmers and growers, helping individuals to access the latest research and innovations and equipping them with the skills to apply this knowledge.
“There is a need for shared ownership to address productivity growth and for farmers and growers to work in partnership with training providers, research institutes and government to raise skill and innovation levels.
“If the industry comes together as a whole, there’s an awful lot we can do very quickly, under our own steam,” says Tom.