Tackling the skills gap

Jenne BrammerThe West Australian
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Leading grains industry stakeholders will from this month join forces to develop solutions aimed at addressing the skills gap in the sector.

A report by Agknowledge, commissioned by the Australian Grains Institute's Capacity Building Project led by Manjusha Thorpe, has mapped out the skill gaps in the industry.

"The report assessed what workforce capacity we have now, that is the number of people and their training and backgrounds, versus what we think we are going to need 10 years out," she said.

With this information now available, workshops involving 20 key stakeholders in the industry will be held over February and March to identify solutions.

These stakeholders will include the project's 12 sponsors, namely GRDC, CBH, Department of Agriculture and Food WA, Curtin University, Murdoch University, Rabobank, UWA, CBH Growers Advisory Council, Bunge, Emerald Grain, Muresk Institute and Summit Fertilizers.

Farm lobby groups will also be invited to participate in workshops.

The project to increase capacity in the sector is one of the pillars of the Grain Industry Association of WA's strategy to double the value of the State's grain industry by 2025.

Dr Thorpe said it was too premature to discuss solutions, however, there were a number of themes apparent in the report.

She said the top three skills identified as essential to performing roles across the value chain were communications (written and verbal), information technology and interpersonal skills.

For growers, identified skill gaps were in business management, especially finance, risk and human resources.

Dr Thorpe said increasing technology meant growers would need to know more about coding, data, systems, and how that is read and used.

"By 2025, manual labour jobs in the grains industry will be replaced with advanced robotics, autonomous vehicles, energy storage, the Industrial Internet of Things, cloud technology, precision farming, robot farm swarms, drones and agbots," she said.

"Therefore, skills development to understand and use new technologies must be integrated into the industry's training as a core focus.

"The challenge for industry revolves around its ability to embrace the new technologies and use them to its best advantage to improve production, profit margins, agrifood market share and the sustainability of natural resources and the environ- ment."

Dr Thorpe said another significant theme was that although there was some very good work being done in terms of training people for the grains industry, an integrated approach to this was missing.

"For instance, there are a lot of parts working together in isolation that a lot of people don't know about," she said.

Also apparent from the report - and reinforcing Dr Thorpe's earlier view - was the poor reputation of agriculture, which would need to be improved to attract more people into the industry.

From April the project will move into the implementation phase - about a year after the project began.

Dr Thorpe said a key focus of developing and implementing solutions would be to ensure they were measurable.

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