Understanding Decision Making for Automation in Packhouse and Human Capital Requirement
The adoption of automation in packhouses is eminent. Businesses will need to make decisions on how much is enough. While some businesses have been adopters for well over 20 years, the late adopters and businesses at different stages of expansion now have learning opportunities. Serious thought should be put into decision making around automation as it is a big investment. All direct and indirect costs should be assessed and considered. The standalone equipment makes it possible to sectionise adoption, and input capacity (fruit bins) and physical size of facility structure will determine the level of automation. An important element is the philosophy of the organisation. Two places visited as part of this research chose to not run their equipment to full capacity to not ‘automate people’ out. Community survival is built around their business with many two-generation family employees.
Automated packhouse equipment is designed with the turnkey concept, requiring technicians to plan production and run the line, as well as maintain the equipment. Business has the option to re-skill/upskill the current workforce or recruit for needed skill. While much consideration is given to retaining the current workforce, it is important to note that the development of soft skill will be essential for new roles.
Developing soft skill can be achieved through in-house mentoring and gradually introducing suitable employees to the new roles. Business must understand this will take time and be ready to invest time.
As an aging workforce might choose to opt out of new roles, businesses will need to weigh the non-monetary cost of releasing a workforce that understands the culture of the organisation and ensure a transition plan is in place.
The future of the industry will rely on transforming the potential of younger people through new technology and new thinking. Building the future workforce means a target audience of secondary school students. The industry stakeholders will have to take a role in creating awareness of career opportunities in the sector. The industry bodies should collaborate with schools on career day events, field trips, speaking engagements and coordinate with individual businesses on internship program or job shadow. There should be stronger engagement and involvement of the industry stakeholders with youth organisations.
This study aims to be a living document as the author will be looking more into the work currently done by different industry sectors within Australia in creating awareness and promoting career pathways to the target cohort. Since the start of this study, the author has been involved in a career day event, and guest speakers at both university and secondary school events.
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