Horticultural businesses have, for a number of years, grappled with the challenge of recruiting enough workers to fill seasonal roles. Ever since the old SAWS scheme was abolished, the number of workers coming from the EU has fallen and, worryingly, we are getting fewer and fewer returnees. Securing the seasonal workers pilot was one thing, but converting it to a permanent scheme is going to take another monumental effort by the NFU and its members. What will tip the balance this time around? Domestic recruitment.
Those of us that have tried and failed before will not be enthused by the thought of local advertising, striking up relationships with local colleges, speaking to recruitment teams in jobcentres. But all of those things are necessary this year for two all important reasons.
The first is obvious. With a seasonal worker scheme for only 30,000 workers and COVID-19 restrictions making EU recruitment harder than ever, we are increasingly reliant on domestic workers to plug the shortages in our workforce.
The second reason maybe less clear, but is all the more critical. If the horticulture industry does not do everything it can to recruit a domestic workforce, there is little guarantee that the Pilot will be extended into 2022 and beyond. The UK government has been clear, not only to our sector, but to every part of the economy; more must be done to fill British jobs with British people. The Seasonal Worker Pilot scheme is the only low skilled immigration route the government has created. That makes it such an important success for the NFU but also something that is fragile.
To help members, the NFU has been working with DWP to ensure that the services it offers are as effective as possible. For the first time, the DWP is targeting its own recruitment teams across the country to help fill seasonal horticultural roles. They have provided a dedicated email address for horticultural businesses to contact, to start the process of building a relationship with their local DWP teams. Businesses are also encouraged to advertise roles through the government’s free Find A Job website. The combination of these things will provide DWP with first hand data on numbers of vacancies and suitability of local candidates. If jobs are left unfilled, or if candidates leave after just a few short weeks, the government can be in no doubt of the challenge our industry faces.
The NFU continues to provide evidence to government on the need for continued support. We’re also working hard to build an evidence base that will secure the inclusion of ornamentals businesses within the scheme. But we need growers’ help too, and their engagement with DWP on domestic recruitment is our number one ask.
Chair, horticulture and potatoes board