The single biggest challenge facing the agriculture sector is a crisis in recruiting and retaining workers.
Made worse by the impact of the Turnbull Government’s backpacker tax, visa policy mismanagement and general policy inaction, it is accepted that the current workforce shortage in agriculture could be as much as 100,000 employees.
Yet Agriculture Minister David Littleproud has proclaimed an ‘Aussie farming jobs boom by 2024’. He did so in response to a research report by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research (NCVER) which has assessed jobs growth and jobs turnover in each sector in the Australian economy.
If David Littleproud read the NCVER report, I suggest he should do so again.
The fact is that the Report indicates jobs growth and employment turnover in agriculture will be 81,000 over the period (2017-2024), just 15 per cent of the total of 516,000.
More importantly, 63 per cent of the 81,000 will be vacancies created by those leaving the farm workforce. By comparison, just 23 per cent of the job vacancies in IT will be replacement jobs.
These figures reflect both the ageing of the farm workforce and the reluctance of younger Australians to consider farming as a career choice.
During a recent Agriculture Workforce Roundtable Labor held in Parliament House, key industry leaders and stakeholders identified a number of issues driving workforce shortages including:-
- A lack of tailored VET courses;
- A lack of workforce data;
- A less than satisfactory focus on agriculture in school curriculums;
- The backpacker tax;
- The visa system;
- Regional culture; and,
- Spousal job opportunities and access to health, education, childcare and other services in the regions.
The opportunities in Australia’s agriculture sector are significant but so too are the challenges. It will take much more than Government spin and misrepresentation to fulfil our aspirations.