In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, containment measures have been implemented to suppress the spread of the virus, some of which are affecting labour availability for the agriculture sector. Many of Queensland’s fresh produce industries depend on the timely availability of skilled and semi-skilled seasonal workers, including Pacific Islanders and back-packers. So, the Queensland Farmers’ Federation led Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance (RJSA) is collaborating with the state government to determine the potential long-term impacts on workforce supply as changes in consumer demand and community distancing measures continue to be enforced.
Most of the available workforce opportunities will be located in regional areas of Queensland with roles available for both skilled and unskilled workers. Delivering quality training to ensure that the intended workforce has the skills needed is key to responding to the expected disruption. The state government has recently made a range of free training opportunities available through the Queensland TAFE system. However, the RJSA believes the cessation of the Queensland Agricultural Training Colleges’ operations has left an immediate gap in essential training delivery for the agricultural industry and the provision of training in some regional areas.
Additionally, in Queensland there is no standard agriculture ‘work-ready’ induction to ensure new employees arrive at the farm gate correctly prepared safely start work in a rural enterprise. To minimise the burden of workforce changes due to the pandemic, programs to pre-train new staff, including providing effective preparedness for working in a rural enterprise and a standard workplace health and safety induction are required. The RJSA has been working on a training solution that has the support of many industry organisations and is currently seeking funding from the state government for its implementation.
The Queensland agriculture sector needs a coordinated education and training support from TAFE and other training providers to ensure an appropriately qualified workforce that can meet industry needs in the coming months. During this time, the RJSA is committed to supporting farmers and working with the sector and the government to ensure that Queensland has an agricultural workforce that is well resourced, fit for purpose and responsive to the disruption the state is currently experiencing.