Agri-food focus as £6m fund unleashed on farms
By Scunthorpe Telegraph | Posted: 7 Feb 2018
Agricultural businesses across the South Bank are being encouraged to invest in the future of their workforce and take advantage of a free business skills programme, if the region is to maintain its international reputation in agri-food.
With more grade one agricultural land than any other local enterprise partnership in England, Greater Lincolnshire has ambitious plans for the region’s agri-food sector to double its contribution to the economy by 2030.
In order to achieve this growth, a programme of investment in productive capacity, skills and knowledge has been put in place to drive an increase in sales to the UK and export market, while countering issues linked to Brexit's potential labour squeeze.
As part of this, education providers have devised a programme of integrated skills and innovation support to facilitate the development of a more productive agri-food sector.
The courses are aligned closely with the regional agri-food sector plan, which was adopted by Greater Lincolnshire LEP, and addresses the actions which need to be taken in the next three to four years as major changes impact on the food chain.
Agricultural businesses across the Greater Lincolnshire region are being offered the chance to sign up to Skills Support for the Workforce (SSW), a regional skills and enterprise programme led by Calderdale College in partnership with 13 local training providers.
Launched after securing £6 million from the European Social Fund through the Education and Skills Funding Agency, more than 300 learning programmes have already been delivered to workers in the sector.
Ebrahim Dockrat, director of external funding at Calderdale College, overseeing the Skills Support for the Workforce project in the region, said: “Agri-food businesses are facing an economic climate which has seen an increase in labour costs and prices within a very competitive market place. There are also issues relating to labour availability which impact on businesses too.
“A key way to address these challenges is to increase the skill set of existing employees to improve staff retention, which will in turn improve quality standards and efficiency, and ultimately support employers overcoming future challenges and realise their ambitions advancing productivity and growth.
“We have worked closely with the LEP to develop a range of skills training programmes which offer agri-food businesses courses that will not only up-skill, but also re-skill, their staff to allow them to grow and make their business resilient.”
As well as the technical agricultural courses such as soil management, environmental conservation and a variety of construction plant and machinery operations courses, diversification is also a key area of interest. Businesses are exploring skills training to enable them to diversify into areas such as plant hire, visitor attractions, tree surgery and direct retail such as selling milk direct to the public, hiring out buildings & workspace.
The courses range from general skills qualifications in Mathematics and English, improving numeracy and literacy levels to boost general labour efficiency, to more specific courses including a Diploma in Performing Manufacturing Operations and a certificate in Warehousing and Storage Principles, focused on improving competency and ability to enable a more productive supply chain.
There has also been a focus on management courses, addressing one of the key barriers to growth for business in the sector.
Businesses are already benefiting from the funded training, including Epworth-based E Park and Sons Ltd, one of the UK’s few remaining family-owned and run potato businesses.
The company has developed a strong reputation for high standards of excellence in the sector. Through SSW employees undertook a programme of training which included Improving Operational Performance, Industrial Environment Awareness and Team Leading and Functional Skills courses which will increase the skill sets of existing staff and improve staff retention and on-site safety.
Mr Dockrat said the training has had an impact on staff motivation throughout the company to the point that other staff have now taken up the opportunity to engage in the range of different training available. The company anticipates that as a result, it will also improve quality standards and efficiency which, in turn will help the business grow.
Mr Dockrat added: “When you hear how businesses like E Park and Sons Ltd are benefiting, it shows that investing in workforce development is a smart move for any business wanting to secure its future and remain competitive.
“We’ve made great head way in working with businesses across the sector to help their operations and ensure that their workforce have the right skills to help make their businesses more resilient and able to meet future needs.
“But, in order to make this happen, it’s vital to develop an integrated end-to-end skills supply programme to meet the future skills needs of the full food chain, including linked sectors such as food chain logistics.”
A fund of up to £6 million has been made available to SMEs in Greater Lincolnshire however, SMEs interested in applying for the funding must act quickly as it’s only available until July 2018.