Edible horticulture skills survey
This skills survey, which analysed responses from over 550 edible horticulture businesses across the UK, seeks to aid industry efforts to improve funding provision, provide support for labour challenges and better inform training providers of industry needs.
Horticulture operates in a highly competitive retailer environment, where efficiency in all aspects of business, including labour, is key. It’s, therefore, imperative that the industry has access to a skilled workforce for its future viability and growth.
With in-kind support from the NFU, AHDB funded a survey of the edible horticulture sector, which analyses responses from over 550 businesses from commercial field vegetable, protected edible, mushroom, soft fruit, tree fruit production and packhouse businesses. We hope the results from this survey will help the industry focus on what’s required for labour and skills within the sector, and build a picture for policymakers and stakeholders to help underpin a future skills strategy that will support industry sustainability.
The analysis clearly shows that maintaining and building on a skilled, efficient and sustainable labour force remain a key priority for the industry. The survey responses have identified a range of challenges that the industry is facing, which include:
- The critical need for highly competent workers – the sector boasts many technical and non-specialist roles that require high levels of experience and skill to allow businesses to remain competitive
- Difficulty recruiting staff with the appropriate specialised skills, in roles from crop harvesting through to spray operators and agronomists. Barriers to this recruitment include attracting young talent and access to returning, experienced seasonal labour from the EU
- The existing skills gaps in the current workforce were mainly attributed to lack of cost-effective, relevant training and education availability
- The expectation is that the skills requirements of the sector will increase in both permanent and seasonal staff, particularly in technical roles including automation and plant nutrition, and business management areas such as process mapping
There could be considerable advantages to being able to demonstrate the highly skilled jobs available in the sector to raise the industry profile as an attractive sector to work in, and a chance to anticipate and provide the necessary training and upskilling.
Breaking down barriers
There were many reported barriers to accessing training including the relevance of the training itself, local availability and cost. The call to action for edible growers and processors is to get involved in industry groups and with training providers to digest, discuss and break down these barriers so that the training available is led by business need, and accessible across the industry in a cost-effective way.