Australia’s food industry needs more skilled workers, report

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 30th October 2013

Australia’s agrifood industry needs more highly skilled workers if it is to capitalise on growth opportunities, according to a report from the Australian Workforce and Productivity Agency (AWPA).

The report, called ‘Food and Beverage Worksforce’, which was released on 24 October 2013, found that both the agriculture production and food processing sectors were in transition and need to attracted skilled workers to grow new export markets in the Asian region. The industry currently employs approximately 553,000 people and generates around four per cent of Australia’s GDP and 11.5 per cent of the value of exports.

The AWPA said that while Australia’s agriculture output continued to rise and contribute significantly to exports and the food and beverage processing sector was growing, the industry still 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,” said Philip Bullock, AWPA Chair. “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,” he said.

“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,” Mr Bullock said.

The AWPA said that growing skills would require “attention and focus” as currently less than 40 per cent of workers in agriculture and fishing and 45 per cent in food processing had a post-school qualification. This compared to Australia’s all-industries average of 62 per cent.

The ‘Food and Beverage Workforce Study’ was developed by the AWPA in collaboration with industry and education stakeholders, including the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF).

“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 from Australian Agriculture,” said Matt Linnegar, NFF CEO.

Agrifood Skills Australia, an independent, not-for-profit Industry Skills Council established by the Australian Government, was also involved in the development of the report. It said it was encouraged to see the food industry, training providers and government policy makers “recognising how intimately skills and industry competitiveness 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,” said Arthur Blewitt, CEO of Agrifood Skills Australia.

Food and Beverage Workforce study recommendations

The study said that 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 needs.

In particular, the 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 AWPA is an independent statutory authority that advises the Australian Government on the nation’s current, emerging and future skills and workforce development needs.


Australia's agrifood sector needs more highly skilled workers, report