Young woman carrying a crate full of vegetables

Improve Agricultural recruitment outcomes with this long-term strategy

The pandemic has had significant ramifications for Australia’s agriculture industry. This isn’t only due to decreased tourism and sales, it is also the result of drawn-out and significant labour market shortages. 

Much of the country’s agricultural work completed on farms and wineries has traditionally been carried out by travellers and international backpackers. In fact, more than one-third of peak seasonal jobs on horticultural farms have previously been filled by overseas workers, according to the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences. But with the cessation of overseas travel cutting off Australia from the rest of the world, the pandemic has left a gaping hole in our agricultural labour market. 

One saving grace for the industry was that many Australians who found themselves unemployed as a result of Covid-19 sought out work within Australia’s farming communities, and while this didn’t fulfill the labour need in its entirety, it certainly offered some respite for anxious employers. 

“We’re talking about people who are highly skilled in some areas and used to an epic wage, and now they’re looking for work on farms,” Victorian Farmers’ Federation vice president Emma Germano said.  “We’ve been saying, ‘how do we make ag sexy again?’ And it probably just did that overnight by itself.” 

But with the economy showing signs of recovery and life in most states returning to some semblance of normalcy, many Australians who picked up farm work during this time may be considering relocating back to cities to find work. And with the overseas travel ban showing no sign of lifting with the exception of New Zealand, a continued labour shortage is a reality agricultural employers will likely need to face for a few years more. 

What will be critical in this next period then, is for agricultural employers to try and keep workers engaged in the agricultural industry at large, not just their current role. This means that when a particular harvest wraps up, rather than simply returning to the city or leaving the industry, employees are open and willing to continue working for agricultural employers in these roles. 

This could provide numerous future benefits for agricultural employers. There will be less pressure to entice new workers to the regions, as there will already be workers available. Even better, these people will have worked in agricultural roles before, if not within the same businesses. This means they’ll have likely developed the necessary skills and knowledge of the role and industry, saving time and money on training. 

Here are some ways employers can keep workers engaged in the agricultural industry to improve access to a skilled workforce in the coming years. 

Provide training and development 

Offering training opportunities to your workers doesn’t just improve their performance overall, but also aids in retention. According to LinkedIn’s 2019 Workforce Learning Report, 94 percent of employees say that they would stay at a company longer if it simply invested in helping them learn. This is particularly true of younger generations, with research finding that roughly a quarter of Gen Z and Millennials say learning is the number one thing that makes them happy at work. Further to this, 27 percent of this age group say the number one reason they’d leave their job is because they did not have the opportunity to learn and grow. 

This data is telling for agriculture employers and the industry at large. The more they can engage employees through training and learning programs, the more likely these workers are to want to continue  in similar roles to utilise their new skills.  

Within the agriculture industry, this training could involve one-on-one mentoring, facilitating specific industry certifications, safety training and helping workers gain machinery operating licenses, to name a few. Many States have training funding available for agriculture and other work, such as Smart and Skilled funding in NSW. These funded training options provide avenues for agriculture workers to gain pre-employment and upskilling training while working. 

What is important to remember is that upskilling and training of employees shouldn’t just occur when they first arrive at your business – it should be ongoing. This allows employees to quickly adopt the latest industry developments and standards, ensuring they are always efficient and compliant.  

Provide job continuity for casual workers 

Perhaps one of the best ways to keep your workforce engaged with the industry is through offering work continuity, whether this be within your own business or another. If an employee has enjoyed their time performing agriculture work, there’s a likelihood they may wish to continue this work, even if their current role is ending. By removing barriers to finding new work, employers can help employees transition into another role within the industry. 

There are several ways employers can do this: having a job board visible in the workplace allows employers to advertise upcoming positions within their own business. If they don’t have any roles until the next season, it provides an opportunity to promote jobs at other farms and workplaces within the local region. This helps to keep skilled workers in the area for when you need them next. Displaying brochures for industry recruiters, such as this one from CozWine, also gives employees a chance to reach out and actively receive notifications about upcoming opportunities in the area. 

“CozWine has an average casual tenure that’s greater than 16 months”, says the brand’s National Manager, Ed Milne. “Because we’re able to provide flexibility and continuity to our workforce, they’re engaged and excited about extending their time working within the industry.” 

Affiliation with industry bodies 

Another mechanism that will help keep workers engaged with jobs within the industry is to facilitate an affiliation with an association or industry group. This is a particular kind of networking that not only helps employees feel actively involved within the industry, but also provides another channel by which to hear about new jobs, training opportunities and meet employers and employees. 

These associations often hold events or request feedback from both agriculture employers and employees, allowing both to periodically come together and make an active contribution to the industry. Industry connections are invaluable when it comes to making a workforce feel valued and committed to continued work. 

If you would like to future-proof your recruitment strategy, you can print off our CozWine brochure here, and encourage your workers to contact us.