6 key labour strategies of the People in Dairy Action Plan explained

A six-pronged approach has been put forward to combat and solve the labour and human capital issues currently facing the dairy sector, in the form of the ‘People in Dairy Action Plan’.

The action plan report – compiled by the ‘People in Dairy Industry Stakeholder Group’ at the request of the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Michael Creed – was published earlier today (Wednesday, June 20).

Also Read: Action plan to address labour issues in dairy published

The report highlighted a multi-pronged approach based on six strategies to solve the issue of dairy labour shortages.

These are:
  • Measures to ensure adequate availability of skilled farm operatives, both seasonally and throughout the year;
  • Labour-efficient farms;
  • Employers with good HR skills;
  • New training and Continuous Professional Development (CPD) programmes for dairy farmers and employees;
  • ‘Stepping Up’ and ‘Stepping Back’ succession pathways to dairy farming; and
  • Promotion of dairying as an attractive career.

In the report itself, these key strategies were further explained.

Measures to ensure adequate availability

For the first pillar mentioned, the report stresses that there is no “single fix” for this issue.

However, some of the measures proposed include:

  • The roll-out of the dairy training initiative – which targets jobseekers, women in agriculture and drystock farmers;
  • Enhanced efforts at recruiting labour from within the European Economic Area (EEA), where employment permits are not required;
  • Greater engagement with the European Employment Service to increase its success in attracting labour from the EEA market;
  • The encouragement of a work permit policy which would take greater account of the agri-food sector’s unique characteristics and requirements for labour, particularly seasonal labour;
  • The encouragement and facilitation of workers from New Zealand to work in Ireland for one or more periods.

Labour-efficient farms & HR skills

The action plan outlined that farms must be desirable workplaces, if they are to recruit and retain good workers.

To facilitate this, the stakeholder group recommended that a new research and knowledge transfer programme – focusing on making farms more labour-efficient – is required.

Topics highlighted in particular for research include applying new technology to reduce labour on dairy farms and a more prominent role for contracting.

Also, in light of a dramatic increase in farmers expanding their herd sizes – and consequently becoming employers – the action plan calls for information and training to be made available to farmers on: good HR practice and legal requirements; good management practices; and having the right facilities for employees.

New training programmes

On training and development, the stakeholder group recognised the need for diversity depending on levels and job types.

Entry-level workers need dairy farming skills training – while farm managers and owners need training in cash flow planning, strategic planning, communication skills, time management, etc. as well as in technical farming skill.

The group highlighted Teagasc’s recent education revamp, noting the specific ‘levels’ in farm employment.

It added that efforts of different organisations in this area (Teagasc, Macra, FRS) need to be coordinated, and that a comprehensive range of CPD courses need to be developed and made widely available.

Succession pathways

Teagasc has piloted a ‘Dairy Step Up’ initiative targeted at experienced dairy employees who are keen to take the step into owning their own farming business via partnerships, share farming or leasing, according to the report.

If Irish dairying wants to attract good personnel, it needs to have multiple pathways to allow someone become a dairy farmer.

To complement this, the group advises on the need for a ‘Stepping Back’ programme – targeted at farmers who are planning to reduce their active role in dairy farming.

This, the group says, will ensure that farmers are aware of the various options of continuing their business – even if they don’t have a successor within their family.

Helping older farmers to enter arrangements with younger farmers will also help reduce isolation as well as health and safety risks in these farms, the action plan notes.

Promoting dairy as an attractive career

Finally, the group calls for a sustained, multifaceted campaign to change the perception of dairy farming away from “one of long hours, physically demanding work and poor remuneration”.

It should instead be regarded as a modern, high-tech industry with career opportunities and advancement possibilities at many levels, embracing good working conditions, and with good earning potential for both employees and owners, the group says.

This is important in both the short and long-term to attract new workers to the industry and to encourage greater succession rates among dairy farm families.

It would involve an advertising campaign, strong social media activity, working with career guidance systems in schools and colleges, and possibly a competition to promote and highlight different career paths into the industry, the report concluded.