Edible horticulture - it's a skill

Friday, 12 June 2020

The edible horticulture sector covers a diverse range of production systems and manual labour inputs, the majority of which require specialised skill sets that are a challenge to attain. In recognition of the shortages in labour and the skills gaps that exist in the sector, AHDB, with support in kind from the NFU, funded a survey to gather evidence on the industry’s skills and labour force requirements.

Analysis of the survey of over 550 businesses across edible production and packing operations in the UK clearly shows that maintaining and building on a skilled, efficient and sustainable labour force remains a key priority for the industry. However, 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 which 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, with barriers to this recruitment including 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 for this.

 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.

 This survey provides the supporting evidence to help industry focus on what is required and build a more complete picture of funding and training needs. This will be crucial to shape a future skills landscape which provides clear, reliable development opportunities to benefit the edible horticulture sector and ensure its viability and production capacity now and into the future.

Contact Nathalie Key, Knowledge Exchange Manager, to discuss these results further on Nathalie.Key@ahdb.org.uk

 Learn more in the reports for the UK edible sectors: