What is going to happen to the labour market on UK farms with the implementation of Brexit?
Agriculture currently finds 65% of its workforce from foreign labour both seasonal and full time posts. This is even more of a case in the horticultural sector where the figure is up towards 80%.
If, as suspected , even in the short term, the uncertainty that is being felt by this labour market reduces the number of people wishing to work in the UK, then the additional considerations needed to be taken into account are the value of the pound being less and the benefit entitlements being removed, by how far will this affect the fall in supply of labour in relation to the needs of British agriculture?
Decline of the traditional workforce
The influx of European and foreign labour came at a time that recruitment from traditional UK sources started to decline, this was due to the aspirations of this type of school leaver being changed and them being told that further education was the means and outcome to overcome all their financial requirements as high paying secure jobs would be in abundance waiting for them once they completed their education.
This outlook also degraded the value of manual labour and made it appear to be the lowest of the low. This has become so entrenched into the psyche of the school leaver, teachers and careers advisers that a number of areas of skills are in short supply.These are again often filled by foreign labour which 71% of the British population that voted for Brexit stated was a major issue for them.
These factors have a potential for leaving the agricultural industry and particularly the horticultural sector with a shortage of labour. It also therefore raises the question as to what can be done to take action to address the problem before it becomes so entrenched that livelihoods may become affected?
Action for a future workforce
Even if the current influx of agricultural workers are allowed to stay, which as of yet is not certain, their replacements will need to be found. Where will these come from? The industry needs to start actively promoting itself in areas that its future workforce will notice it such as schools and local villages etc. They also need to address the problem that young people have in taking up these jobs and staying in them. if the industry cannot find the workforce and goes down the route of technology to overcome the shortage of workers where will it find the employees with the skills set needed to operate this equipment?