2015 Winter - Labour matters in Australian agriculture

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FPJ1202C, Nettle, R (2015), More Than Workforce Shortages: How Farm Human Resources Management Strategies Will Shape Australia’s Agricultural Future

FPJ1202C, Nettle, R (2015), More Than Workforce Shortages: How Farm Human Resources Management Strategies Will Shape Australia’s Agricultural Future, in Farm Policy Journal: Vol. 12 No. 2, Winter, pp. 17-27.

Changes in farm workforce organisation and their subsequent impacts on skill needs and the human resource management strategies deployed on farms are increasingly important factors in the sustainability and competitiveness of Australian agriculture. However policy discussions about Australia’s agricultural workforce remain restricted largely to issues associated with workforce supply. This paper identifies a large range of important challenges Australian agriculture faces in managing an agricultural workforce and discusses what farmers, agricultural industry sectors, rural communities and government can do to address them. Drawing on Australian and international research, the paper identifies the reduction in the family workforce, as a proportion of the total farm workforce, as the most significant workforce change. Other significant changes are the increased use of casual and contract workforces and the use of labour saving technology that reduces total labour demand, but requires increased skills. Together these changes have transformed the social relations of production in that farmers need to look beyond the farm gate to consider: Why would anyone come and work on my farm and for me? The reputation farmers and the agriculture sector builds for attracting and developing a workforce is therefore arguably as important as its reputation to consumers in other areas such as the environment and product quality. Whilst droughts, the mining boom and population decline in some regional areas has provided a difficult environment for the attraction and retention of staff, an often overlooked influence on workforce supply is the unique ways employers across agriculture conduct their human resource management and build good reputations as employers. In addition, the practices of different agricultural industries to support career paths or engage with the communities in which workforces are sourced is rarely discussed. Yet it is these practices that point to the need for farm-by-farm, regional and sector-specific workforce development approaches to address workforce challenges. Without leadership in these areas within the agricultural sector itself, it is difficult to envisage how the future skills and experience that Australian agriculture requires will be built or supported in the community.




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