NFU Horticulture Board Vice-Chairman, Derek Wilkinson, discusses the importance of having a strategy in place to ensure that sufficient skills are available to support a productive and efficient sector.
We are all wondering what sort of deal we are going to end up post-Brexit for Agriculture and Horticulture, including trade, labour access, regulation and support payments. We know support payments are to be reduced so producers are going to have to continue to drive up productivity and efficiency.
Food production is evolving into a highly specialised industry utilising some of the most innovative technical and data systems available. We have moved a long way already, but there is a lot more around the corner. Examples include robotics, autonomous tractors, precision farming systems, disease and yield forecasting models, to name but a few. Farmers will need to produce more food from less area, particularly in our sector, as people are being encouraged to eat more fruit and vegetables. These are exciting times for us with great opportunities; we could be on the brink of an Agricultural revolution.
It is not just about investing in the latest technologies and equipment though. We will need a highly skilled, professional workforce from business leaders through to machine operators. This is going to be essential if we are to maintain pace of change required and continue to produce high quality, nutritious food grown in a sustainable manner.
Some of my G’s colleagues are members of the Skills Senior Leadership Group (SSLG). This was formed following a recommendation from the ‘Janet Swadling Report’ which was commissioned by the Agri-Skills Forum.
The purpose of the SSLG is to ensure the required skill-set needs in the agri-food sector are recognised and properly represented in the Food and Drink Sector Council’s response to the UK industrial strategy. The group is made up with representation from across the industry, as well as educational and research organisations. The aim is to develop a coordinated vision and strategy for skills and training for the industry to increase the capacity and productivity of our workforce.
We need to retain (and attract new) people who have the aptitude to succeed in a fast paced, technologically advanced environment. The industry can no longer rely on a one-off qualification or no qualification at all. Implementing and valuing continuous learning and development across the industry is vital for us.
Advanced leadership is required to develop our people, so they can embrace innovation and change. Management skills are essential to deploy the range of specialists inputting into our business. Technical skills are vital to operate new and continuously developing machinery. Not only do we need these skills, we need a system that identifies and signposts the relevant training at the appropriate time in a simple and straightforward way.
By developing a professional structure for our industry, we enable progression pathways that entice the brightest people to the industry. We encourage a culture of continuous development that positively affects all businesses via productivity improvements. In short, we develop an industry with capacity for change, a drive for excellence and a strong future regardless of the Brexit outcomes.It’s an exciting piece of work and we could all benefit from continuous development.