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Agricultural workforce: the great challenge of the sector

On September 4, 2019

Agricultural workforce: the great challenge of the sector

Although it is more or less significant depending on the sector, trades or production types, the labor shortage remains a reality for most of the farmers. But things are progressively changing, driven by a sector in transition.

The drudgery, the lack of attractiveness of rurality, the lack of training, the wage level, the generational gap are among the many reasons put forward to explain how difficult it is to hire in agriculture. “I’ve been looking for a farm mechanic for more than 3 years: and if you need specific skills, it’s even more complicated,” explains Nicolas Foucher, vegetable producer in Les Deux-Sèvres. Established in this business for over 10 years, he remembers a time when he had to refuse job applicants.But for the past 5 years, he has had to rely on a seconded staff from Bulgaria to cope with the increased seasonal activity. He also notes a high turnover among his teams: contract interruption, sick leave, recruits who do not show up or leave after a few hours… which forces him sometimes to hire 6 or 7 people to ensure that 4 will actually be present the whole season.

Accordingly, to avoid putting the brakes on the development of farms, everyone works more, and in the end, the professional life takes precedence over privacy. “Not being up to date for certain tasks, such as weed management, can have consequences over 10 or 20 years with grass setting seeds… If work is underperformed due to a lack of employees , the whole production and farm’s health status are impacted”   ” underlines Nicolas Foucher, before adding that he is forced to “entrust the specific tasks that couldn’t be achieved to multi-skills employees, by training them as much as possible so they can do everything”.

“Poorly promoted” jobs

Given the decline of the family farms in which generations of farmers succeeded each other, it becomes necessary to attract workers who are not very familiar with the agricultural world.

But agricultural work is intrinsically excluded from urban centers and is also known for its harshness, which does not make it a dream job for those who are not from the agricultural community; not to mention that the image associated with agriculture in general is often dented in the public view.

“Agriculture jobs are poorly promoted”, admitsLuc Pierron, winegrower in Beaujolais and vice-president of the national Alternative Service. Sometimes he struggles to find candidates to replace farmers on leave in case of work-related accidents, sickness, maternity or paternity, training… “People still think it’s a low-wage handling work that requires no skills or qualifications. It’s no longer the case but still needs to be proved!”

Whether the jobs have lower added value or more qualified profiles, the difficulty remains the same.

Mylène Gabaret, director of Apecita (the national association providing support towards employment for executives, engineers and technical staff of the agricultural and agri-food sectors) notes the gap between the recruiters’ job offers and the expectations of the candidates. “There is an idealistic view of the job but in reality, its actual content will turn out to be disappointing. Take for example the “Research/Experiment” function: it is attractive while factually, it is more field experimentation than pure research. So they don’t apply”. As a result, given the 14,000 job offers published by Apecita last year and the 17,000 registered candidates, we still cannot talk about adequacy.

Change the image… and the practices

main d'oeuvre agricole

According to Mylène Gabaret, it is important that agriculture professionals rethink the way they recruit so they can adjust to a new generation whose motives have changed, but also because the sector has deeply evolved and it is a fact very few people know. “When we provide support towards employment, we insist on the employer’s “trademark”, anything the farmers can promote: modern infrastructures, emergence of new jobs, values of the company…The intent is not to deceive applicants but to show reality as it is by highlighting the benefits as well, the job access conditions, the prospects for growth.” She also underlines the importance of professional immersion through internships, learning, testimonies from farmers and meetings, so as “to get an inside view”.

The profile of the agents attracted by the Alternative Service reflects this: they are often young graduates who want to perfect their training and value the diversity and experimentation of new tasks on a daily basis. “Agriculture has evolved indeed. We need IT specialists, engineers, mechanics, drivers, people who know how to manage data… enough to give the incentive to get back to agricultural jobs” says Luc Pierron, very satisfied with the dialogue initiated with the training centers over the past years. The training paths have been updated and the courses made shorter to foster professional retraining in agriculture; new skills and jobs of the future have been included in the programs…”All this induces people to come back progressively, with proper and more complete training, and they become more operational when they start working.”

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