10-point plan for attracting the best farmworkers

A deepening shortage of seasonal labour on many farms makes it more important than ever for growers and livestock producers to be the employer of choice – and know how to get the best from their employees.

With that in mind, the NFU and Association of Labour Providers (ALP) have produced a 10-point plan to help farmers – and the agencies that source farm labour – recruit and retain workers, including from overseas. Here NFU chief horticulture adviser Hayley Campbell-Gibbons sets out the guidance.

See also: Farming’s access to labour when UK leaves the EU

1. Advertising and promotion

Whether it’s advertising job vacancies or promoting the benefits of a job in farming, the more targeted any advertising and promotion is towards the individual worker, the more successful it will be. Advertising in the right place will improve your chances of getting a good response.

Action: Review your farm website and use of social media to promote the best image of the business and opportunities available, with up-to-date information about the job roles, facilities and benefits and a focus on “selling” the jobs available.

2. Get the best from your team

AHDB’s Lean Labour Tool is designed to help growers increase the productivity and efficiency of their workforce, which can lead to a reduction in the overall number of workers required.

Getting the best from the team is the theme of AHDB Horticulture’s programme of workshops, aimed at helping employers find solutions to labour challenges.

Action: The AHDB is extending its programme of workshops throughout 2018. The NFU will help promote these events to farmers. Attend one if you can.

3. Collaborate with other farmers and providers

An employer who is a registered licence holder with the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority (GLAA) can provide workers to other farms.

This may help balance out peaks and troughs in hours – especially in where members of the local workforce may be “under-employed” for a period of time. It could also create opportunities to extend seasonal work into full-time employment.

Action: Guidance on the provision of workers is available at gla.gov.uk

4. Incentives to retain workers

Farmers are experiencing an increase in labour turnover, with more “non-arrivals” of overseas workers and higher numbers of workers leaving their jobs early.

Paying the right rate of pay for each job role is important. Evaluating the job roles in a business can help to set appropriate pay scales that reflect the tasks, responsibilities and language skills required of individual members of a team.

Action: Consider the incentives and rewards you offer employees. Rewards for outstanding work can help retain staff. They can take the form of a bonus, or non-cash incentive such as additional paid-leave or reduced accommodation charges.

5. Ensure working patterns are flexible

More people are seeking jobs that offer a work/life balance to accommodate family commitments and lifestyle. Some operations may be suitable for employees not requiring onsite accommodation, while others may be looking for a more structured working week.

Action: Review job roles, descriptions and hours for temporary and permanent work. It may be possible to attract more workers already living in the UK by offering flexible working patterns.

6. Plan labour needs accurately

Planning ahead and planning accurately for labour requirements can ensure that businesses have the right number of workers at the right time. Overestimating or underestimating the number of workers needed, as well as having a “just-in-time” policy for recruiting staff is risky.

At the other end of the supply chain, late or inaccurate orders, changes to volumes and contract specifications by processors and retailers make it harder for farmers to manage their staffing, and add to workforce pressures.

Action: Develop a “‘labour plan” to improve labour forecasting and identify any opportunities for efficiency gains or collaboration.

7. Give workers a strong voice

Understanding the views of workers is important for identifying and rooting out any problems, concerns and exploitation. Workers value communication with employers to provide feedback on the work environment, accommodation and any issues they may have.

Action: Develop a communication plan, which includes worker surveys, setting up an employee forum, offering staff the chance to raise issues anonymously and encouraging informal communication. Issue guidance to staff on their rights as employees.

8. Guarantee a good living and working environment

Workers have more choice on where they work and who they work for than ever before. Rates of pay between most UK horticulture and agriculture businesses are not significantly different and this means the working and living environment becomes a key deciding factor for workers.

Action: View the working and living environment through the eyes of the worker and make changes that improve the way workers feel and are treated. Treat workers as individuals, make them feel valued and important to the business.

9. Consider all available visa programmes

Farmers looking to fill vacancies should consider all available visa programmes that enable the sourcing of workers from overseas.

For example, the Tier 5 (Youth Mobility Scheme) visa, allows individuals to work in most jobs and enter and leave the UK at any time while the visa is valid. It is open to those who:

  • want to live and work in the UK for up to two years
  • are aged 18 to 30
  • have £1,890 in savings
  • are from certain specified countries, or have certain types of British Nationality.

Action: Home Office visa information is available at www.gov.uk.

10. Sourcing and recruiting workers

Most farm business either rely on labour providers to fill their recruitment needs or employ their workforce directly. The NFU and ALP invited farmers, labour providers and government to a roundtable in March to review new and innovative ways of sourcing and recruiting overseas workers.

Feedback indicated that some recruitment strategies are more effective than others.

Action: The ALP is producing guidance for labour providers on sourcing workers in a tight EU labour market, and on recruiting in different countries.

The farmer’s view

Derek Wilkinson, managing director, Sandfields Farms, Warwickshire

“We grow and pack spring onions. Without a reliable workforce we don’t have a business, so we should do everything we can do to attract people to work in farming – whether that’s for a few months of the year, or on a permanent basis.

“The plan is a good checklist for employers looking to improve their chances of recruitment success. This goes hand in hand with the call on government to provide clarity and assurance that we will have access to the workforce we need up to and after we leave the EU.

“Farming is a long-term business – on my farm we will be making planting decisions this summer in preparation for next season. I will do everything in my power to attract the workers I need, but government has a pivotal role to play here too.”

The labour provider’s view

Stephanie Maurel, chief executive, Concordia

“We are asked to recruit around 10,000 people every year, mainly from Romania and Bulgaria, to work on UK farms usually for a period of 6-9 months.

“Last year we experienced fewer candidates turning up to recruitment events in Europe, a higher number of people not arriving in the UK to take up their job offer, and more workers returning home earlier in the season.

“The feedback we had from the workforce was that they are confused over what Brexit means for them, the exchange rate isn’t as attractive and they are looking for jobs outside farming – this is especially true of those with good levels of English.

“We’re confident that we’ll be able to meet our clients’ labour requirements in 2018, but both we, and the businesses we supply workers to will need to continue to work hard to attract the right number and calibre of workers.”

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