With MPs grappling for votes and employment a politically hot potato, the pig industry has a rare window of opportunity to get its recruitment crisis and skills shortage onto the election agenda.
According to NPA chairman Richard Longthorp, producers and the allied trade must actively lobby parliamentary candidates about the stonewall currently preventing the pig sector from accessing potential new entrants in the run up to this year’s general election.
Speaking at a Round Table meeting organised by Pig World and MSD Animal Health, he said that politicians, prospective or serving MPs, must be made aware of the dire state of agricultural recruitment. Unless this situation changed, the pig industry wouldn’t be capable of sustaining domestic pigmeat production or expanding its booming export trade because it wouldn’t be able to secure a skilled workforce.
“The resistance from schools, educators and career advice organisations with regard to agricultural apprenticeships is immense, yet here’s an industry ripe with employment opportunities, long-term prospects and career development,” Mr Longthorp added.
Ironically, the Government is actively pushing apprenticeship schemes and will introduce the Trailblazers initiative in 2017. This scheme, which has cross-party support, embraces knowledge, skills and behaviours and is aimed at getting more young people into skilled, long-term employment.
Nine Trailblazers are earmarked for agriculture and horticulture, and they offer significant recruitment potential for the pig sector. Secondary schools and careers advisers must be made aware of these employment options, but Mr Longthorp maintains that access into schools is currently impossible.
“If we don’t campaign for these schemes, there’s a real possibility that they won’t get off the ground and agricultural apprenticeships might just disappear,” he said.
Careers in farming and primary food production don’t score highly with teaching staff or careers advisors. Many have inaccurate and/or outdated views and are unaware of the dearth of employment opportunities that exist within the pig sector.
Round table panellist Richard Knox, a commercial pig producer from Devon, said he would like to see more industry interaction with schools, particularly at the primary level. He said this would stem misconceptions and encourage more students to explore what pig production has to offer.
“We must dispel myths and focus on best practice,” he said. “We must be confident and show youngsters what we do and why we do it.”
Mr Knox, who runs a 300-sow breed-to-finish herd, also suggested the industry draft a “student questionnaire” to find out what school leavers wanted from the workplace. The pig sector might then be better placed to gauge market requirements and tailor a recruitment strategy that could satisfy expectations and fulfil young people’s aspirations.
The emphasis should be on promoting the innovative, technically led nature of modern pig production and the vital role that skilled stockmanship has in a successful pig business.
Although mundane tasks such as mucking out and pressure washing were an integral part of livestock production, the investment in IT, automation and digitally controlled and monitored management systems meant pig farming was becoming more efficient, less labour intensive and a more attractive, rewarding career option.
> There will be more from the MSD Animal Health/Pig World Round Table on Recruitment in the April issue of Pig World, and here on the Pig World website