Forget Brexit, or even falling prices, our real challenge is recruiting and retaining talent

As someone who has worked my way through the ranks, starting as stockperson 20 years ago, I find it hard to take when my passion for pigs is not shared by the next generation.

Throughout my career I have found it increasingly difficult to recruit and consistently maintain staffing levels.
Some of the novel ways in which people have handed in their notice include: “I am just popping to get a jacket”, followed by the screeching of tyres; and a man stood on a pig ark advising me of his fear of pigs.

I have gained and lost seven members of staff in the last 18 months, as I have tried to fill the role of stockperson. I’ve found that instead of employing someone with the skill or enthusiasm for working with pigs, I have given trials to people who show even the slightest interest in agriculture.
The big challenge facing our industry is not necessarily Brexit, disease or price volatility, but the availability of good quality staff to help run the unit with adequate understanding and training.

In a bid to help encourage a new generation, we attempted to go down the route of employing apprentices, so all the unit’s current staff could pass on their skills and knowledge – but there appeared to be no interest from the college.
I believe we are paying a good wage to try and attract the right people, so more should be done to highlight how many opportunities exist within the pig industry.

A passion for pigs combined with a hands-on approach can deliver endless opportunities.
Having interviewed people from all walks of life, it seems strange to me that, despite applying for a role working with animals, they appear to have no concept of what the job involves.

One interviewee asked if working every other weekend was a requirement. To which I responded: “Yes”. Then I was met with: “Does your wife like you working every other weekend?”
I thought about this from my wife’s point of view and responded: “Yes”, only to then be met with: “That’s not fair, your wife is used to it”. This was promptly followed by: “Do I have to work Christmas and bank holidays?”
I was tempted to reply: “No, the pigs feed and muck out themselves during holidays.” But I settled for a simple: “Yes”.

I’m concerned that the lack of people interested in working hands-on with pigs is going to have a detrimental effect. Are we going to be able to fill the roles within the industry with people that have the passion the role deserves?

Gareth Virgo is production manager at J E Porter Ltd in Lincolnshire, where he oversees operations on a 620-sow indoor straw farrow-to-finish unit

Gareth Virgo
is production manager at J E Porter Ltd in Lincolnshire, where he oversees operations on a 620-sow indoor straw farrow-to-finish unit

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