Author: Ben van Delden, KPMG Partner, Head of AgriFood Tech
What people do in their jobs is changing and evolving rapidly as digital technologies transform industries. Australian agriculture is on the brink of vast change, striving to meet the National Farmers’ Federation’s (NFF) vision of $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030 (1). To achieve this goal and remain globally competitive the industry needs to grow significantly in the next 11 years. The value of current agriculture revenue is expected to increase from its current level of $59 billion to reach $64 billion in 2023-24 (2). In order to achieve the NFF’s $100 billion objective, growth needs to reach an estimated compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.5 percent per annum by 2030. Among other enablers identified in the NFF’s 2030 roadmap (3), this growth will be facilitated by unlocking the opportunities of agricultural technology, estimated by the Precision To Decision rural R&D for profit project to be capable of delivering a $20.3 billion gross value at the farmgate (4).
In an effort to respond to a rapidly changing agricultural environment and boost the industry’s competitiveness entering a new age of digital farming, Cotton RDC and a group of Rural Research and Development Corporations collectively funded the Agriculture workforce digital capability framework project, led by KPMG in collaboration with Skills Impact, Faethm and The University of Queensland. Part of the Growing a Digital Future initiative, this project investigated the digital capabilities required by agricultural workers in order to address any gaps in the ability to meet future demand. The project also delivered a framework to develop education pathways for up-skilling the agricultural workforce to better adopt technology.
This report entitled Agricultural Workforce Digital Capability Framework provides:
- Definition of a national digital capability framework about the Australian agricultural workforce.
- Identification of the influence of emerging technologies will have on agricultural workforce capabilities over the next 10 years.
- Assessment of the current digital capabilities of the agricultural workforce.
- Identification of digital and enabling capabilities gaps of the agricultural workforce compared to estimated future needs.
- Review of current training providers and curricula in digital agriculture-related disciplines.
- A handbook that defines the national digital capability framework for the agricultural workforce, including capability levels, key learning outcomes and useful resources of training packages.
With more than 228,000 people employed in farming, forestry and fisheries activities, the Australian agricultural industry is characterised by an ageing workforce, which one component of the workforce of particular concern are the farmers (5). About 23 percent of the sector’s current workforce is expected to retire over the next five years (6). In addition, the education system currently does not train enough people to enter the sector, as the industry identifies 800 agricultural graduates leaving tertiary institutions to meet an estimated annual demand of 2,000 people (7). Although it is acknowledged that is not the unique pathway for people to join the agricultural workforce (e.g. marketing and communication, engineering, business and finance), specific agricultural training programs were the focus of this study. Meanwhile, the future and existing agricultural workforce will have to embrace change and develop new skills to ensure the industry seize the opportunities presented by digital agriculture and remains competitive globally. The findings indicate that 41% of roles in Australian agriculture will be impacted by technology in the next 10 years, 30% through automation (eg robotics) and 11% through augmentation (eg Artificial Intelligence and wearable devices). Perhaps most concerning however was the finding that The Agriculture, Horticulture and Conservation and Land Management (AHC), Seafood Industry (SFI), Australian Meat Processing (AMP), and Forest and Wood Products (FWP) training packages comprise 1,880 units of competency, of which around 85 (five percent) are designed to facilitate digital capabilities. Put simply we are training for yesterday’s skills, not those the jobs of the future require.
Our hope is that this digital capabilities framework will help VET and RTO providers module their course content around the 6 critical digital capabilities and 5 critical enabling capabilities the future Australian Agricultural workforce requires, and the self-assessment questionnaire will assist people working in agriculture to determine their own digital capability needs.
High level insights of current digital capabilities of the agricultural workforce
- While digital literacy in some sectors may be growing in regards to awareness of available technologies, the maturity of most digital capabilities – as defined in the digital capability framework – remain low in the current state.
- While many technologies currently exist, there is on average a slow uptake of digital solutions, that could be due to various reasons, including but not limited to, a lack of digital literacy among the industry, a lack of clear value propositions from technology providers, a lack of understanding of the value proposition of the available technologies, difficulties to identify the ‘right’ solution for the business, serviceability issues or connectivity barriers (regardless of available technology solutions industry needs to work around this limitation).
- The ageing workforce is weakened by a shrinking labour supply, however numerous valuable opportunities are available to fill the gap.
- There is an increasing need for non-traditional agricultural skills in the workforce such as technological, scientific and management competencies, also assessed to possess more mature digital capabilities.
- Education and training pathways are trapped in a trade-off between reflecting current industry conditions and incorporating future-focused digital and technological training.
- The workforce are aware of the value of big data collection and while collection of data has been growing, significant barriers remain in understanding what data is required, collecting data digitally and interpreting this data to yield maximum use.
Realising these opportunities will require addressing the challenges of lifting the digital maturity of the industry. This will require considerations including but not limited to assessing key workforce digital characteristics through the lens of the national digital capability framework, understanding the impact of digital technologies on workforce capabilities, and taking into account insights from the analysis of the current existing training providers and learning pathways.
Further steps for the agricultural industry to consider in uplifting the digital maturity include:
- Looking into the specifics of which agricultural sectors and which particular technologies present the greatest augmentation and automation opportunities, in order to prioritise capability development focus;
- Driving the development of curricula and training pathways for both future and existing workers to address the gaps in digital skills;
- Using the self-assessment questionnaire to develop into an online tool for individuals to assess future capability requirements based on current digital skills, and enabling company level and industry level views of the capability results to prioritise training solutions for our workforce; and
- Driving a campaign to develop benchmarks across the various sectors within the agricultural industry.
For more information about the project, visit www.crdc.com.au/sites/default/files/Agricultural%20workforce%20digital%20capability%20framework_Report_Final%20deliverable.pdf.
(1) KPMG and National Farmers Federation, 2018, Talking 2030: Growing agriculture into a $100 billion industry, p. 3.
(2) ABARES, 2019, Agriculture overview March quarter 2019. http://www.agriculture.gov.au/abares/research-topics/agricultural-commodities/mar-2019/agriculture-overview
(3) National Farmers Federation, 2018, 2030 Roadmap, p. 24.
(4) Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, 2017, Accelerating Precision to Decision Agriculture: Summary Report for Stakeholder Consultation, p. 1.