Where Have All The Farm Workers Gone?
Prior to Brexit the agricultural sector in Britain employed 65% of its workforce with foreign labour for both seasonal and full time posts. In the horticultural sector the figure was up towards 80%.
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 changing aspirations of a particular type of school leaver who had been sold the dream that further education would lead to high paying secure jobs once they had secured their qualifications.
This outlook 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 skilled workers are now in short supply. These positions were 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 suitably skilled workers. 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?
Given that the agricultural workers who went home at the beginning of the pandemic are not coming back to the UK, where will the industry find their replacements?. Where will the new skilled workers come from?
The agricultural and horticultural sectors need to start actively promoting itself in areas that its future workforce will take notice such as schools and colleges. 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 skill set needed to operate this equipment?