Skills for Sustainability in the Food Processing Sector and Beyond

31 Mar 2010Archived News Climate Change Matters

Australia's food processing sector is a particularly important part of the nation's overall food production. It has been expanding at a healthy rate over the last decade and, today, trade in processed food products is growing at twice the rate of bulk commodities, making up 20 per cent of the manufacturing industry. The sector also accounts for around 18 per cent of employment in the manufacturing sector.(1)

Climate change, water scarcity and the transition to a low-carbon economy presents a particular challenge for this sector. Energy prices are set to increase substantially over the next decade. Many businesses in this sector are constrained by low profit margins and will be vulnerable to higher input costs and potential supply disruptions. The food processing sector is relatively resource intensive and therefore has both high risks and high potential returns associated with more sustainable systems and practices.
With so many challenges before Australia’s food processors: less water, less arable land, fewer nutrients, diminishing fossil fuels and a more erratic and warmer climate, many commentators have described the situation as the ‘perfect storm of shortages’.(2)

The question for Australia and this critical industry sector is, is Australia ready to meet these challenges?

The perfect storm of shortages
Research suggests that Australia is not ready. There are profound shifts needed to meet this challenge; in technology, science and in work practices, for example, how we work together and the quality of skills our people have. The degree of change that may lie ahead could be comparable to the great industrial or agricultural revolutions.(3)

One thing is clear: Australia must ensure that it has a world class workforce to lead it into this approaching storm.

The AgriFood Skills Australia 2010 Environmental Scan recognises that new and emerging skills in this sector include those needed for lean and agile manufacturing processes. The ability the manage energy and water resources is a key to cost-effective sustainability practices.

The Australian Government’s Green Skills Plan

The Australian Government unveiled its Green Skills Plan in October 2009 aimed at incorporating environmental sustainability into all levels of vocational training and therefore industry practices by the end of this year.

In announcing this initiative, Deputy Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP, in her position as Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, said that tackling climate change would create new jobs, transform and save many existing jobs, and produce increasing average incomes for our people.

The Green Skills Agreement was endorsed by the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on 7 December 2009 with the key objective of enabling individuals and businesses to contribute to a sustainable, low-carbon economy in their workplaces and communities, and the provision of sustainable jobs, services and advice.

The agreement will achieve this by:

  • a review of training packages to embed sustainability knowledge, skills and principles
  • embedding skills for sustainability in vocational education and training, within the requirements of the national regulatory framework
  • upgrading the skills of Vocational Educational and Training (VET) instructors and teachers to deliver skills for sustainability
  • implementing a transition strategy to re-skill vulnerable workers.(4)

One key initiative that will aid in the enhancement of sustainability knowledge, skills and principles in training packages is the “Sustaining the Food Processing Chain” Program.

Sustaining the Food Processing Chain Program

AgriFood Skills Australia was established in May 2004 as one of 11 Industry Skills Councils to provide accurate industry intelligence on current and future skill needs and training requirements for the agri-food industry. Its role is to support and give leadership to the development, implementation and continuous improvement of quality, nationally recognised training products and services, including training packages.

AgriFood Skills Australia, in conjunction with local authorities and industry groups, will be running a series of Sustainability Seminars in 2010 across the country to raise awareness surrounding sustainability issues and to assess the needs of the industry in this critical area. The objective of these seminars is to encourage companies to think holistically about their business and identify mechanisms to meet the challenges of the future, maintain their competitive edge and make their business truly sustainable.

Further, in association with Energetics, Agrifood Skills Australia will run an exemplar project throughout most of 2010 to develop and pilot a workforce development approach, for food processors, to meet energy, carbon and water management challenges.

The project is being funded by the Australian Government Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations’ Workforce Innovation Program.

The project will assist enterprises to secure long term prosperity by demonstrating quick win cost-saving opportunities and initiating longer term plans in carbon management, energy and water efficiency.

Developed by Agrifoods and Energetics, the project will provide guidance on how sustainable, lean and agile manufacturing processes can be applied more widely across the food processing sector and across other industry sectors.

The project will incorporate:

  • A new approach to workforce development for resource efficiency and carbon management in the agri-food sector which is configured, hands-on and industry specific;
  • An assessment of the energy, water and carbon baseline and sustainability practices for participating businesses and a gap analysis of current management systems against best practice; and
  • Diffusion and adoption of training materials and program evaluation outcomes to vocational education and training sector stakeholders

AgriFood Skills Australia will use the results of the project to provide an example for other industry sectors and training providers to proceed in this area and to effectively integrate competencies and skill requirements into Australia's training systems.

In future editions of Climate Change Matters, Energetics will keep you updated on the calendar for the series of Sustainability Seminars run by AgriFood, the progress of the project and the key learnings that result.

For more information contact Anne Pellegrino, Group General Manager - Government and Utilities, Energetics, on (02) 6103 5106.


(1) AusTrade Website at
(2) AgriFood Skills Australia (2010)
(3) Agrifood Skills Australia (2010). Environmental Scan 2010, A Perfect Storm of Shortages…Are we ready? Retrieved from
(4) AgriFood Skills Australia (2010). Skills for Sustainability. Retrieved from

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