Growing Tasmania's agriculture sector by building literacy skills

Lifting literacy and numeracy skills in agriculture

26TEN has started the conversation about lifting literacy and numeracy skills in Tasmania’s agriculture sector. We engaged Sally Murfet, from Inspire Ag, to consult people and organisations within the sector to produce a Discussion Paper: Agricultural Language, Literacy and Numeracy in Tasmania. Now we need to keep the discussion going, with business, organisations, government, and communities. How can we work together to make a practical difference to skills in this sector that is so important to Tasmania?

Agriculture, including forestry and fishing, is the second largest sector of the Tasmanian economy with a gross annual value of $2.75 billion. That’s a significant contribution to Tasmania’s prosperity and wellbeing, and the Tasmanian Government is working to grow this contribution. 

To continue to grow, the agri-sector is making increasing use of technology and incorporating findings from research and development. The sector is also keeping up with increasing health and safety and food security standards, and changes to operating procedures for handling livestock, equipment and inputs. This means the workforce needs higher levels of reading, writing, maths and comprehension skills than ever before. 

That’s why 26TEN is supporting the agri-sector to strengthen literacy and numeracy skills in its workforce 

Supporting growth, and recovery from COVID-19, means supporting skills

Almost half of all Tasmanians struggle with literacy and more struggle with numeracy. That means the agriculture workforce of 14 000 people (including fishing and forestry) potentially has 7000 who have difficulty with literacy and numeracy. Raising skills is an important way we can support economic growth in this sector. It is all the more important in light of the ambitious target set by the Tasmanian Government to achieve 10-fold growth at the farm gate to $10 billion by 2050, and to support recovery from the impact of COVID-19.

Reducing errors, streamlining processes, boosting productivity and wellbeing

In the Paper, Ms Murfet records how lower skill levels lead to mistakes. Measuring chemicals, filling in safety incident reports and following written procedures are just some tasks that require numeracy and literacy skills. She also heard about the shame and stigma that people feel when their skills are not as good as they would like and how they are reluctant to ask for help. In raising these issues, the Discussion Paper opens the conversation about how the agricultural sector can work with 26TEN to raise awareness and begin a change that will benefit all Tasmanians. 

26TEN is already building skills in the Agriculture Sector

The good news is that through the 26TEN Tasmania Strategy, many organisations such as Harvest Moon, HS Fresh Foods (formerly Houston's Farm) and Moon Lake Investments have enjoyed the benefits of boosting literacy skills in their workplaces. Grants are available to Tasmanian organisations, whether small family businesses or larger corporate farming businesses. The grants support building literacy and numeracy skills in the workforce and also skills in writing clearer procedures, emails and other documents. 

Continuing the discussion 

Now the conversation about literacy and numeracy has begun, 26TEN will work with Sally Murfet and Richard Warner to engage the sector in making progress on the Paper’s recommendations. Both Ms Murfet and Mr Warner have extensive experience in agriculture and have shown their commitment to making the sector productive, prosperous and a great place for Tasmanians to work. The discussion starts with the Paper’s framework for action. 

The framework for action

  • Reduce stigma around low literacy. Stigma in this sector remains high and people continue to equate low literacy skills with a lack of intelligence. By challenging this myth and reducing the shame felt by those with low literacy, we will increase the number of people seeking help. 
  • Work with the Tasmanian agri-sector to establish an industry advisory group to design and coordinate literacy activities that build awareness and literacy. 
  • Collaborate with industry stakeholders to build case studies that promote the return on investment and productivity gains that can be achieved by improving literacy. 
  • Redesign some of 26TEN’s tools and resources to incorporate rural photos and farm case studies that promote literacy interventions for individuals and businesses. 
  • Sponsor or support agricultural events where the message about literacy could be delivered without naming the topic; that is, embedding it into contemporary business topics. 
  • Increase awareness in the industry of 26TEN’s employer grants by distributing the information more broadly. 
  • Establish an industry facilitator to help businesses apply for 26TEN’s employer grants and help distribute information and resources about literacy.

Find the paper here: Discussion Paper: Agricultural Language, Literacy and Numeracy in Tasmania. For more information conact us at email@26ten.tas.gov.au