Ways to Attract People to Work in Agriculture

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Agriculture has traditionally drawn its workforce from farming families, but the pool has diminished because young people attracted to farming has persistently declined since the 1970’s. The shortage of labour in agriculture applies equally to both skilled and unskilled positions. It is reported that in recent years, there are six jobs for every agricultural graduate completing their degree. The fruit and vegetable industries have over time adapted to the shortage of workers by employing backpackers and utilising government initiatives such as the Pacific Islander Workers Program, but both sources of labour have been severely curtailed over the last few years due to COVID initiated travel restrictions.

With the Australian unemployment rate the lowest in over 20 years, we are unlikely to see a change in the current shortfall in the short or medium term, so what can farms and companies do to adapt?

Some industries have already been forced to change their hiring strategies as a result of an absence of Australians who are either not attracted to the type of work or who are unwilling to live in regional or remote areas. The pig and poultry industries are a good case in point. Over the last ten years, there has been an increasing trend to sponsoring workers and farm managers from places such as South Africa and The Philippines, to work in Australia, many of whom plan to follow a path to permanent residency or citizenship.

Following two exceptional seasons in many parts of rural Australia, and the promise of a third in 2022, combined with high commodity prices, the demand for station hands is currently at an all-time high, resulting in a significant shortage of candidates. Faced with multiple roles to choose from, candidates can afford to be more scrutinising. Remote locations with poor access to schools and shops, and jobs where no accommodation is offered or is of poor standard, are likely to remain vacant for months, especially if salaries offered are not at a premium. In this market employers need to consider initiatives that will make employment offered more attractive.

Here are some ways to attract people to work for you:-

Free or Sponsored Accommodation. This is an especially useful tool where houses in an area are generally unavailable to either rent or buy but bear in mid any sub-standard or inadequate housing will be seen as a turnoff.

Free Utilities and/or Food. Free electricity and/or gas, meat, fuel, dog food or agistment for livestock. Use of a vehicle for private use.

Education Support. In the event that good quality schooling is unavailable locally or is too great a distance away.

Bonus Schemes. Based on productivity or on achievement of agreed key performance indicator. Some companies offer a sign on bonus with a lump sum payable on the successful completion of an agreed term of employment.

Flexible working arrangements. This has become increasingly popular with employees. By offering options such as job share, flexible start and finish times, compressed working schedule (working more hours over fewer days) or hybrid working (work partly from home, office or another location), you will attract and retain talent so who are seeking work life balance.

Sponsorship of Overseas Workers. Increasingly sponsorship is being seen by many employers as a longer term solution to their labour problems. Overseas candidates will be more accepting of what local candidates consider to be undesirable work and won’t be turned off by regional and remote locations, seeing it instead, as an opportunity to work and possibly settle in Australia. There are various visa categories under which you can sponsor overseas workers. The process is controlled by the Department of Home Affairs – see www.homeaffairs.gov.au for details of what conditions need to be met and how to apply. Agricultural recruitment consultants can take the pain out of finding suitable candidates from overseas and Immigration agents can guide you through the sponsoring process which, for the uninitiated can be quite daunting.

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Belinda Chung - Agribusiness Recruiting - Agricultural Appointments

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