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Farm workforce must develop a new skills culture to thrive after Brexit, says sector leader

Seasonal workers cutting celery inside a rig for G's Group. Picture: G's Group.

Seasonal workers cutting celery inside a rig for G's Group. Picture: G's Group.

G's Group

The food sector's workforce must adapt to technological and policy advances if the industry is to thrive after Brexit says BEVERLY DIXON, HR director at Fenland growers G's Group and a member of the senior leadership team for Defra's new skills taskforce.

Beverly Dixon, G's Group HR DirectorBeverly Dixon, G's Group HR Director

Agriculture and food production have evolved into a highly specialised industry, utilising some of the most innovative technical and data systems available.

If we are to maintain, if not increase, this pace of change and continue to produce high quality, nutritious food grown in symbiosis with the environment, new knowledge, skill sets, and behaviours are required to continue this advance.

For our industry to thrive in a post Brexit era, we need our people to develop and adapt continuously to the new challenges we face. The challenges will vary depending on the size of the business and the sector of operation, but we all have the same common challenges: labour availability is reducing, and the use of technology is increasing. This industry has to be constantly horizon-scanning for the latest research, innovation and technology that will further enable their own business specific needs to drive efficiency, sustainability and profitability.

READ MORE: Major food industry coalition aims to bridge farming skills gap

With an industry vision to improve productivity across all aspects of agriculture, we need to retain (and attract new) people who have the aptitude to succeed in a fast-paced, technically-advanced environment.

The industry can no longer rely on a one-off qualification (or no qualification). Implementing and valuing continuous learning and development across the industry is vital for us to survive and thrive in the future post Brexit, as well as attracting the best global talent.

Continuous improvement in technological process development has allowed the industry to increase efficiency and reduce some reliance on manual labour. Machine operators are already swapping steering wheels for GPS-guided machinery, herdsmen are increasingly using data to identify and treat disease before it visually appears, computer programmes are already predicting harvest times and machines will be picking fruit and vegetables.

We have a mandate and government drive to bridge the current productivity gap via transformational change. As industry leaders we need the foresight to predict what this means for our individual businesses. 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.

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