Farmers brace for delays in maintaining and repairing machinery as industry scrambles for apprentices and workers in remote areas.

Farmers could face delays in maintaining and repairing farm machinery as hundreds of jobs at agricultural dealerships go unfilled, a major farm machinery company warns.

The results of a nationwide survey of dealerships by CNH Industrial, owner of the Case IH and New Holland machine brands, show that the demand for apprentices and skilled workers significantly exceeds supply.

There are also significant shortages of parts technicians, sales and administration personnel.

While Covid had exacerbated the labor shortage, it was already a problem following a boom in machine sales over the past two years and competition from other industries such as transportation and mining, according to dealers.

The Tractor and Machinery Association recently estimated that only 60 percent of all vacant positions in the agricultural machinery sector were filled.

The problem was likely to worsen with 83 percent of dealers looking to further increase their employment levels, according to the TMA.

CNH Industrial’s dealer survey found that of the 800 dealer positions advertised for the 12-month period ending June 21 of last year, 50% remained vacant.

Jobs for skilled tradespeople were the worst, with only 41 percent of vacancies filled, and even attracting apprentices was difficult with just 69 percent of positions filled.

Interpreters and spare parts salespeople were also scarce, with only 58 percent of advertised sales positions filled and 44 percent of parts positions.

“The results did not surprise us – we are well aware of the difficulties our dealers have, especially in smaller and more remote locations, in recruiting and retaining qualified staff,” said the general manager of the agriculture from CNH Industrial, Brandon Stannett.

“If that need (for service technicians) becomes too great, it can obviously impact a shop’s ability to serve customers, putting a lot of pressure on dealerships at particularly busy times of the year, like during harvest, ”said Stannett.

“In small towns, our dealers are often one of the biggest employers, so it’s not only farmers who potentially lose out from labor shortages, but also rural and regional communities and their communities. savings.

O’Connors director of human resources Lisa Day said the shortage of service technicians was the worst the Wimmera-based Case IH dealership had seen in a long time.

O’Connors operates 12 branches in three states and employs 248 people.

“We could recruit at least two qualified service technicians in each branch for now, plus apprentices, as well as 10 to 15 other positions such as parts salespeople and interpreters.

“So that’s at least 34 vacancies in our dealer network,” Ms. Day said.

O’Connors was working hard to attract experienced technicians and others to move to smaller country towns, but it was difficult, Ms Day said.

One problem, for example, was that a potential candidate could have a spouse or partner who also needed a job, which was not always possible.

O’Connors had also sought to employ technicians overseas to fill in gaps such as during harvest, but of course the pandemic has significantly delayed those efforts.

O’Connors also encourages young people who drop out of school to enroll, offering a work experience and a learning and training program called RedStart that he strongly promotes in local schools.

“I think we need to promote ourselves a lot more and promote our industry to show the opportunities that we can offer,” she said. “One of the challenges we have is convincing students that being a diesel mechanic for example can be a very rewarding and interesting career.

“These days, with sophisticated farm machinery, it’s more than just a key stroke and it involves the use of computer skills and diagnostic tools to solve complex problems,” he said. she declared.

Even retaining existing staff was a challenge, especially during the pandemic where workers were often looking for a break, a new challenge, or even a career change.

“We work hard to be the employer of choice in our region and to be able to offer interesting and varied career paths,” said Ms. Day.

Mr Stannett said the survey highlighted the need to invest more in a larger pool of qualified technicians and parts experts.

CNH Industrial had been running a dedicated apprenticeship program at Case IH and New Holland through Riverina TAFE for almost five years, and they wanted to see government help for additional programs and incentives for job growth and business. regional learning.

“This is all part of a multi-level plan that we are developing alongside dealers and with the support of all industry, government, training organizations and other stakeholders,” Mr. Stannett.


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