Agriculture skills council launches to 'transform' productivity

An industry coalition is aiming to kick-start a new skills strategy to equip the agricultural workforce for the future of farming.

Helen Woolley
Helen Woolley

The NFU, AHDB, agricultural colleges and food producers, manufacturers and retailers are backing a transformation in skills, careers, recruitment, qualifications and continuing professional development.

Skills development has been recognised as a big factor to bridge the UK agricultural productivity gap to other nations with less than 35% of UK farmers having any formal management training. 

Helen Woolley, director general of the Country Land & Business Association Limited (CLA) has been appointed as the new chair of the skills leadership group. Working with the Food and Drink Sector Council through its Agricultural Productivity and Workforce working groups, the skills leadership group aims to deliver a new agriculture and horticulture skills plan within wider Industrial Strategy proposals to accelerate growth across the Agri-Food Chain. 

The new skills strategy for agriculture and horticulture production will focus on delivery in three core work streams: Creating a professional framework with new qualifications relevant to the needs of employers in the future. Development of clear career paths and fresh approaches to recruitment. Mechanisms to encourage continuing professional development and business support.

Woolley said: "This is the first step. The skills gap has not appeared overnight, it has developed over decades, which is why we need to address the downturn now more than ever to deliver Brexit with a highly skilled and professional workforce.

"It’s great to see the support for this work from the NFU, AHDB, Lantra, Landex and NLBC. The Vice Chancellor of Harper Adams University, Dr David Llewellyn, will lead the professional framework and education working group, John Shropshire, of G’s Fresh, chairing the continued professional development and business support group and Richard Longthorp leading the career paths and recruitment working group.

"We have farmers and growers shaping activity with Matthew Naylor, Simon Gadd and Oli Lee, as well as vital support from retailers and manufacturers, such as Sainsbury’s and Nestlé."

Defra secretary of state  Michael Gove, said: "I am glad to see industry taking the initiative to develop this much-needed skills strategy for the farming sector. This is especially relevant as we look ahead to life outside the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and the opportunity to make industry more competitive and profitable. 

"This work also forms part of the Food and Drink Sector Council’s aim to improve the productivity of the industry, including through securing an energetic and ambitious workforce.

"I look forward to the group developing lasting solutions that work for the agriculture and horticulture industry, and equip the workforce for the future of farming."

Dame Fiona Kendrick, Chairman of Nestlé UK & Ireland, said: "The launch of the AHDB Skills Strategy is very timely, alongside the Food and Drink Sector Council’s own work on skills and workforce, which I lead. I will be working very closely with AHDB, NFU, manufacturers, retailers and the whole food and drink value chain to ensure we deliver solutions to the serious skills shortages we face in our industry."

The Skills Leadership Group is looking for individuals and organisations to join the coalition on skills and add expertise to the work-streams. 

The Skills Senior Leadership Group

  • Helen Woolley - Country Land & Business Association Limited
  • Lord Donald Curry of Kirkeharle CBE
  • Richard Longthorp OBE – AgriSkills Forum
  • Dr David Llewellyn – Harper Adams University
  • Simon Gadd – National Farmers Union
  • Oliver Lee - Farmer
  • Jane King – AHDB
  • Louisa Bagshaw – DEFRA
  • Jonathan Back - DEFRA
  • Janet Swadling – Former SRUC CEO, AHDB Board Member
  • John Shropshire OBE – Chairman, G’s Fresh
  • Beverly Dixon – Group HR Director, G’s Fresh
  • Guy Smith – NFU Deputy President
  • Matthew Naylor – Managing Director, Naylor Flowers
  • Tess Howe – AHDB
  • Invited Universities and Colleges

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