GREAT farmers - Growing Really Exceptional And Talented farmers: training and development in agriculture
Fewer employees in UK agriculture received training over the past 12 months than in any other industry/sector. Despite a relatively low level of engagement with training and skills development within the agricultural sector, clear benefits can be seen from higher skills qualifications, use of training, and adoption of better business practices.
The primary motivation of my study was to look at businesses which do put an emphasis on the value of their workers, how they access training, and see their staff as an investment not a cost. A range of agricultural businesses was visited in France, Germany and Holland with the aim of studying smaller, typically family-owned farms. A second tour was made, as a comparison, to larger units in the USA and Canada. A trip to Ireland acted as a proving ground for theories made during the previous two tours.
Whilst there are clear differences in the level of government and agency support for training in different countries, what clearly stood out was the need to concentrate on the basics of running a successful business. These were to have a clearly defined vision of the aim and direction of the business, with recruitment, appraisals, and staff development all seen through the prism of that aim. This policy of clear direction and positive attitude to employees was much more important than any access to training opportunities or funding streams.
There are benefits to be had from a clear career structure for entrants into farming and these need to concentrate as much on soft skills as physical skills. Recording this Continuous Professional Development (CPD) ideally wants to take place at a national level to provide quality assurance and portability, though the issue of how this would be funded within each sector is open to discussion.
In the UK agriculture sector 88% of farm businesses employ four or less people and therefore are likely not to have a HR department or even a training budget. The difficulty of organising and paying for training schemes in very small businesses should not be underestimated, both in terms of arranging for staff to be away from their business duties and paying for courses when income streams are suffering. Training should be an investment not a cost.
However there is a danger that a lack of engagement by farmers in training and CPD schemes will result in a piecemeal approach to training driven by mandatory legal obligation or the demands of assurance bodies. Farmers, perhaps with the help of levy bodies, need to look to support and develop voluntary CPD schemes that they may need to pay for, rather than be driven by outside pressures. A good career structure will bring quality people into the industry, and grow and nurture talent to become the next generation of farmers.