BIFGA technical day highlights recruitment issues

Recruitment schemes in the fresh produce sector can struggle to attract good candidates even when they offer above-average salaries, the British Independent Fruit Growers' Association technical day heard.

Cooperative Farms head of fruit operations David Gardner, who also runs its graduate management programmes covering fresh produce and broadacre crops, said: "Recruitment is key for our business and for our industry. Our salaries are at the upper end for graduate schemes, but we still struggle to recruit and others in the fresh produce industry have the same problem."

Even students already enrolled in agricultural colleges tend not to be "switched on" to fruit and vegetables, he added. "They either want to drive big tractors or work with livestock. But the career development opportunities are better in fresh produce than in conventional agriculture - my own son has switched to it."

On Cooperative schemes, he said: "We aim to give students a complete understanding of the supply chain and even support students at Harper Adams University College. We are looking for green-fingered workers with a bit of financial nous. But if we don't find the right people, we won't recruit."

The Cooperative's apprenticeship schemes supply "the technicians of tomorrow", he added. "As a point of principle, we take people from non-agricultural backgrounds. We have had a high dropout rate, but we expected that."

Gardner admitted that fruit and vegetable growing "had been a bit of a backwater in the company", but it is now in the third of a four-year replanting programme and is also investing in new storage.

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