30 March 2023

Insight from: Robbie Sefton

Rural industries are crying out for workers – this is not a revelation by any means, it’s been an issue for a long time. But what has recently come to light is interesting new research that has shone a light on at least some of the reasons why this may be, and it provides something of a road map for the agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries to help attract and, perhaps more importantly, retain workers into the future.

The research was undertaken by data science company Voconiq as part of AgriFutures Australia’s Community Perceptions and Worker Experiences Research Program, funded by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The research was looking at the key drivers of workforce retention and attraction across rural industries. It involved surveying the opinions of not only those already in these industries, but also those outside – community members without any real knowledge of, or experience in, the rural sector. Even the differences in responses from these two groups proves interesting reading, before we even start to unpack the opportunities for future recruitment campaigns and strategies.

Looking at these two groups, those outside these industries still have outdated and even inaccurate ideas about the nature of work in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sectors. In fact, 18% of community members surveyed – and there were 5000 people who participated – believe that Australian rural industries haven’t changed much in the last 50 years. It has also shown many from non-rural and non-regional areas have misconceptions about life outside our cities, believing there to be a lack of social opportunities and that life overall is a bit ‘dull’. Those of us who are lucky enough to call country Australia home know this couldn’t be further from the truth, but it does emphasise just how entrenched many of these ideas are, and how far we still have to go to turn perceptions around.

On the brighter side though, more than half of the rural industries workers who were surveyed intend to stay in those industries for more than 10 years, and 70% of them think there are meaningful careers available in rural industries. What the research found was that employee retention in agriculture, fisheries and forestry came down to a few key things: the chance to advance up the career ladder; being part of an industry that listened to worker concerns and responded accordingly; being part of something important for Australia’s future; feeling a bond with the land – and waters – they were working on; and having their experiences match their expectations. On the flip side they were more likely to leave to look for career advancement, because of unfavourable working conditions and insufficient pay.

This is an Australian-first study that’s hoped will inspire ongoing efforts to cast rural and regional Australia and its key industries in a new, more positive light. And, to capitalise on these findings to encourage more interest in jobs and careers in agriculture, fisheries and forestry to not only keep the workers we already have, but show those from outside these sectors that the likes of advances in technology are really changing a lot of the job descriptions that have expanded enormously beyond labourer or tree-feller.  

What the research also found was 13% of the community members surveyed were “very or extremely likely to consider working in rural industries”. Extend that percentage across our nation’s population and that’s a lot of people ready to look at a new challenge or fresh career path. Let’s not miss the opportunity at hand, but rather use these research findings to actively pursue these prospective new workforce participants and help our primary industries sectors fulfill their enormous potential.

To read this article in The Land Newspaper, go to Research provides insight into rural labour | The Land | NSW