Job search websites have reported an enormous increase in the number of people in the UK searching for agricultural work over the past month.
Only 3.7% of job searches in the sector were from users abroad on Indeed’s website on 1 April as opposed to 20% on the same day last year. Also on that date there were 2,145 searches per million on ‘fruit-picking’ – 2,135 of them from within the UK – whereas on 1 April 2019 there were only 36 searches from UK users and 182 from abroad.
Between 18 March and 1 April, there was an increase of more than 6,000 percentage points in searches for farming roles on Indeed’s website.
A spokesperson for Indeed told Personnel Today: “We’ve seen a huge rise in interest for ’fruit picker’ jobs and when we looked at the origin of searches we noticed there had been a substantial spike in British-based jobseekers looking for these jobs.”
But the surge of interest needed to translate into numbers in the fields, said National Farmers’ Union (NFU) vice president Tom Bradshaw, who added that growers were “extremely concerned” about a lack of workers.
A similar rise has been witnessed by the TotalJobs website, which has seen 50,000 searches for farming jobs in the past week, an increase of 83 percentage points. Searches for terms such as fruit picker or farm worker had shot up by 338 and 107 percentage points.
There will be thousands of vacancies opening up in fields, polytunnels, glasshouses and packhouses across the country in the coming weeks” – Tom Bradshaw, NFU
Steve Warnham of Totaljobs told the BBC that workers “who have been temporarily displaced due to Covid-19 are now looking for roles in other sectors”.
Monster also reported a sharp rise: farm job searches had tripled on its site over the past two weeks.
Brexit has led to fears that the UK faces a shortage of fruit and vegetable pickers because of travel restrictions on overseas workers. The coronavirus outbreak has since worsened the position with the British Growers’ Association warning that travel restrictions had left a “serious labour shortage” ahead of this harvest season.
News of the surge in interest around crop-picking work comes two weeks after growers launched a recruitment drive under the slogan Feed Our Nation. It calling for a “land army” to prevent millions of tonnes of fruit and veg going to waste.
Farmers need about 70,000 workers to cover the jobs usually carried out by seasonal migrants, according to the British Growers’ Association.
The NFU’s Bradshaw said: “Growers that rely on seasonal workers to grow, pick and pack our fresh fruit, veg and flowers are extremely concerned about the impact coronavirus restrictions may have on their ability to recruit this critical workforce this season.
“There have already been positive moves from the government to tackle this important issue, such as confirmation that furloughed workers will be able to collect wages through a second job and the introduction of a temporary licensing scheme for labour providers in the wider economy who wish to support food production in the coming months.
“We have now had several positive meetings with Defra secretary of state George Eustice looking to find innovative and creative solutions to mobilise the workforce needed in the coming months. There will be thousands of vacancies opening up in fields, polytunnels, glasshouses and packhouses across the country in the coming weeks.
“We are now working with industry partners, AHDB and Defra, to ensure a web-based solution is ready for the key recruitment time for the peak summer season needing to start this month.
“In the meantime, I would encourage anyone who is interested in helping pick for Britain this summer to contact one of the approved agricultural recruiters.”