Agrifood industry needs skilled workers

The West Australian
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Australia's food industry needs more highly skilled workers if it wants to capitalise on growth opportunities, a new report has revealed.

The Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency's Food and beverage workforce study has found that the nation's agrifood industry - including both agriculture production and food processing - is in transition, and needs to attract skilled workers to grow new export markets in the Asian region.

The industry employs about 553,000 people and generates around four per cent of Australia's GDP and 11.5 per cent of the value of exports.

Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA) chairman Philip Bullock said while Australia's agriculture output continued to rise and contribute significantly to exports and the food and beverage processing sector was growing, the industry faced significant challenges.

"Agriculture remains one of Australia's most productive industries and food and beverage processing is now our largest manufacturing sector in terms of employment," Mr Bullock said. "However, the reality is that with limited potential to grow domestic markets, the future lies in us finding new customers in rapidly growing and highly competitive Asian markets.

"The ongoing restructure of the industry resulting in larger farms and the growing use of new technologies in the agriculture and food processing sectors is also requiring workers to have higher level skills.

"Growing skills will require attention and focus as, currently, less than 40 per cent of workers in agriculture and fishing, and 45 per cent in food processing, have a post-school qualification, compared to Australia's all-industries average of 62 per cent."

The Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency developed the Food and beverage workforce study with industry and education stakeholders.

National Farmers' Federation (NFF) CEO Matt Linnegar said the NFF had worked closely with AWPA on the development of the report and its recommendations and welcomed its release.

"People are the agricultural sector's greatest resource, and ensuring we have a strong and sustainable workforce into the future is a priority, not only for the NFF and farmers, but also for the wider agricultural sector, as identified in our Blueprint for Australian Agriculture," Mr Linnegar said.

Agrifood Skills Australia chief executive officer Arthur Blewitt said he was encouraged to see "the food industry, training providers and government policy makers recognising how intimately skills and industry competiveness are linked".

"This report provides further evidence that a cohesive 'all-of- industry' approach is needed to secure enough highly skilled people to position the sector and its enterprises to realise the opportunities available, and particularly those in the emerging Asian market," Mr Blewitt said.

The Food and beverage workforce study recommends:

· Stronger and more coordinated national leadership to drive the agrifood industry workforce development agenda;

· Establishing an agrifood career promotion strategy, to raise the profile of agrifood careers and attract new skilled workers;

· Developing and using the skills of the existing workforce;

· Encouraging more employers to invest in training;

· Increasing industry involvement to ensure education and training is industry-relevant;

· Increasing the diversity of the food workforce, by encouraging underrepresented groups into the industry.

The study says to meet future demand the agrifood workforce needs training to develop higher level skills: entrepreneurial, leadership, management, mentoring, and risk management skills; advanced production techniques; and ability to translate research and development into successful new products.

The Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency is an independent statutory authority which advises the Australian Government on the nation's current, emerging and future skills and workforce development needs.

To view the Food and beverage workforce study online or register for an AWPA webinar to discuss the study visit www.awpa.gov.au .

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