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Global mobility for talented agribusiness professionals

| Jan. 27, 2023

As the struggle for sustainable food production continues, agribusiness and effective recruitment within it have become ever more important. What kind of talent helps drive success for companies in the industry and what is most important to today’s talent? We summoned our global experts to discuss the importance of international talent in this sphere as well as the current trends in mobility from both the client and candidate perspectives, from the various global regions they operate in.

According to Tracy Dawson (Kestria South Africa), there is plenty of pressure on the agricultural sector, and where there are challenges, there is demand for leaders who can manage an extensive dashboard that goes well beyond the farm. Some of these challenges facing the sector are evolving - tightening regulation in response to climate change and nitrogen overload, and ongoing surges and dips in energy and water cost and availability. Some are ongoing and historical - sustainability, diversification, land rights, supply chain, new trade agreements, pest and disease control and monitoring (on a global scale), and the measurement and reporting load involved. The Southern African commercial farming sector is incredibly diverse because of the wealth of biomes across the region, and talent from the region is often highly mobile – and breaking new ground, literally and figuratively.

It's not just South African farmers who are mobile – many global agribusinesses have invested heavily in securing land use rights for the future – and where they establish a footprint there is often a need for both a local and a 'head office' leader. As a result, we see a large cohort of expatriate leaders across the African continent, possibly due to a need for translation, cultural and linguistic, between a global HQ (in Singapore or Amsterdam, for example.)

Acquisition and joint venture activity continue unabated, and where there is growth there is leadership demand. Leaders are expected to unlock additional value from their existing operations, make the most of new ones, and keep a cool head in difficult times. In return, they prefer to work for companies with good human rights records, high sustainability scores, and a diversity of products and opportunities.

Company behavior and image are key

‘Candidates are increasingly concerned about how corporates behave and brand themselves and in particular, the relationship of the farmer with the community within which the business operates is absolutely essential and a critical component of the value proposition. Really taking good care of the communities you operate in and being a responsible social citizen are also things that candidates are looking for in an agribusiness,’ adds Tracy Dawson.

Warren Carter (Kestria USA) is seeing less mobility in the Americas with a lot of agribusiness and AG science organizations either based there or with some type of multinational presence, contributing to continued growth in the business. Mobility with management leadership in these organizations is less visible, primarily because of constraints around immigration increasing the economic cost of setting up ex-pats in various countries. There is an increase in the development of in-country talent. In South America, the dynamic is different as there, a huge effort is being made to place people at the local level to take on the roles of multinationals. Technology transfer is also more common now, with more and more companies within the US or multinationals engaging with e.g. Dutch organizations on joint ventures, as opposed to the people transfer seen elsewhere.

The US market is very diverse, but we are seeing a big increase in the importance of the employer brand. Sustainability and Green Technology initiatives are really driving that in companies alongside compensation,’ says Warren Carter.

The river of international talent flows into Asia

In contrast with the US, Monicca Yan (Kestria China & Singapore) shared it is easy to attract talent into the Agriculture sector as talents from other industries are open to join the sector as it is deemed to be stable and growing as well as contributing to nation building for food sustainability. Talent in the R&D and technical function within the agriculture sector remains tight as local government in Singapore and China has been encouraging investment into R&D to innovate food and farming practices to enhance the stability of supply. 

‘Agriculture and Agri-Science sector has experienced healthy growth over the last three years, hiring has been healthy and we do expect this trend to continue into the new year,’ states Monicca Yan.

How to attract talents with the right expertise from region to region?

Anuradha Patil (Kestria Malaysia) believes the shortage of talent is particularly visible in middle management. In terms of talent availability, and because Asia-pacific is a major hub, one of the Emerging Markets for Investments, R&D, even for Ag-Tech, and most of the leadership there are mainly ex-pats which can mean there is a lack of security and stability in the roles.

'I think the value proposition that organizations are creating for the candidate is making a difference. It's not the monetary benefit, but how comfortable the employees are, the families, the education of their children, and how they can contribute to their roles not only on a myopic level but a macro level,' adds Anuradha Patil.

According to Patrick Westerburger (Kestria Netherlands), the world's best agricultural universities, such as UC Davies and Wageningen, attract talent from all over the world. Graduates often continue to work in the region, but in fact, they can reach companies anywhere that deal with the big issue: how to feed the growing world population in a sustainable way. The shortage of agricultural experts, from C-level to specialists, will increase in the coming years.

'Fortunately, our customers see that e-learning and IoT, boosted during the Covid-19 period, will change the business models completely and have a positive effect on business operations. In a relatively short period of time, the agricultural sector has transformed from traditionally led companies to state-of-the-art enterprises. That requires different leadership, out-of-the-box thinkers, and leaders who can shape that change. With the growing world population, the agricultural sector will continue to grow strongly on all continents in the coming years. Plenty of work to be done for international talent who are able to develop and roll out a digital future vision for this incredibly fascinating sector,’ says Patrick Westerburger.

Kestria’s network of global experts is deep-rooted in the territories they serve and have intimate knowledge of the true character and branding of the companies with which they work to ensure that our clients are in contact with candidates who connect with their big picture and will take their legacy and business sustainability into the future.

Kestria Insights