The Country - September 2020

Page 6

THE 6 | Issue 7


Pulling no punches Longer, medium and short-term labour supply – are we asking ourselves the right questions? No8HR’s Lee Astridge reports.


s the scramble to find short-term solutions to the Covid-induced migrant workforce issue in New Zealand agribusiness keeps hitting home, the medium-term question is: how do we bridge the labour shortage gap over the next 10 years? And after that, the real question is: how does agriculture position itself for a new normal with increased technology and reducing operational workforce needs?

The facts Research by McKinsey Global Institute looked at skills requirements globally and estimated that the introduction of automation and AI would significantly change the skills needed in the workforce (see sidebar tables with predictions 2016–2030). It goes without saying that in New Zealand we will not be insulated from these trends and that the same global impacts will significantly change the shape of our rural workforce requirements in the future. And the challenge McKinsey identified in their research is now less than 10 years away.

Global trend

in agriculture is not a new thing. In 1991 globally 44 percent of the working population was employed in agriculture, by 2018 this had declined to 28 percent. Within this there is a huge variation between rich and poor countries, with only 1 percent of the workforce in the US working in the sector and poorer countries having up to 70 percent of their workforce still employed in the sector. Information released by Statistica in July shows the proportion of people employed in the agricultural sector in New Zealand declining from 6.49 percent in 2009 to 5.66 percent in 2019.

For this season at least, look local, challenge your thinking, and value your good current team members for the prizefighters they are...

The decline in employment in agriculture is a global trend because a large proportion of work in the sector is classified within the physical and manual skills section of the McKinsey research. Putting this into some historic context, the decline in employment

More technological skills needed

McKinsey’s research does what all good research does, it takes the obvious and gives us some facts and data to back it up. In summary, more technological skills are going to be needed, and fewer manual and physical skills. New Zealand has a unique opportunity afforded by the Covid crisis to become a ‘brain gain’ destination, rather than enduring the ‘brain drain’ status we have traditionally experienced. Let’s not waste it – our future pensions depend on it. Worth noting for the technology sceptics out there, is that the declining agricultural employment trend over the next 10 years will not be brought about by unheard-of technologies; it will be brought about by the technology we currently have becoming more attractive to businesses through either affordability or labour shortage necessity.