Labour challenges across Australia’s food supply chain

Oct 31, 2023 foodpro News

In August last year (2022), Australia’s top peak food industry bodies* calculated the food supply chain needed an additional 172,000 workers to support Australia’s agribusiness and manufacturing sector from paddock to plate.

Australia is not isolated with this issue, however with Australia’s proximity to the rest of the world, coupled with lengthy visa approval processes, the issue becomes greater. To further add to the challenge, local food manufacturing is not slowing down with more labour needed to support the success of the sector.

Due to the significant impact on our industry, we tackled the topic of the labour and skills shortage via a panel session and roundtable discussion at foodpro 2023 in July.

There has been a shortage of skilled labour for some time and as the previous generation of workers retire, the next wave of entering the workforce is not sufficient to replace the skills lost and support the continued growth of food in Australia.

APG Workforce’s Neil Bentham was on the panel and said “We risk a generational skills gap in our local workforce. The youth don’t realise the potential careers on offer in the food supply sector.”

He continued, “Food manufacturing can be seen as an unattractive environment to some, especially for new entrants to the workforce. It can be viewed as low-paying and is seen as more of a stopgap between careers.

Roles in the food sector also very tough to work from home, which removes another percentage of potential applicants who require flexibility.”

Engaging with graduates and students from relevant faculties the top three Melbourne universities, via a roundtable discussion on the same topic, participants agreed that hybrid working models and flexibility are now a priority when looking for a role. Additionally, culture is a big factor, and they believe that as applicants, that they are interviewing a perspective employer as much as the reverse.

Bentham expressed the same sentiment, “Be seen as an employer of choice and always remember that positive workplace culture wins. All the small things count – great facilities, table tennis, weekly/monthly BBQ’s etc.”

Networking can be hugely beneficial in the quest to find a new job role, but this is not a skill that is learnt through formal education and not something that necessarily comes naturally to emerging professionals.

Our roundtable discussion affirmed the difficulties that students have in searching for a post-grad position, they look to their university network for opportunities with a reliance on internships, however, not all food organisations will have an established internship program – and yet most have unfilled positions and are suffering with a shortage of the right labour. There is a role for industry to play here in getting in front of recent graduates to advertise positions and attract talent.

As National Business Development Manager of APG who specialise in recruitment for the food sector, Bentham believes that Government could also be supporting, “The industry could benefit from working with State and Federal Governments to promote meaningful jobs and careers in the food sector.

Work with both primary and secondary education as well as tertiary to spark interest at a younger age. Include excursions to factories for example or school camps to regional Australia near agricultural farms.”

“We need to make the industry look ‘sexy’ to new applicants.”

This massive labour shortage will have significant long-term impacts on price and the availability of food for the consumer unless solutions are found quickly.

Neil’s final piece of advice for food manufacturers looking for skilled staff or graduates on the job hunt, “Make sure you have relationships with well-connected recruiters specialising in the food supply chain.”

Find out more about APG and how they can support your staffing challenges here

*Source: National Food Supply Chain Alliance

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