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What are the current and future skills that aquaculturists should develop within the framework of Industry 4.0?

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By Milthon Lujan

Intelligent feeding algorithm for recirculation systems in aquaculture. Source: Yang et al., (2022); Lecture Notes in Electrical Engineering
Intelligent feeding algorithm for recirculation systems in aquaculture. Source: Yang et al., (2022); Lecture Notes in Electrical Engineering

The aquaculture industry is no stranger to the industrial digitization processes that have been shaping Industry 4.0. However, the challenge to overcome is ensuring that aquaculturists have the skills and competencies to effectively operate with digital tools.

Scientists from the Institute for Future Farming Systems at CQUniversity sought to identify key skills and needs for the workforce to thrive as aquaculture workplaces advance through a transition to digitally driven forms of work.

The research explores digital capabilities and social skills necessary for workers on aquaculture farms to thrive in this new digital era, with the Australian shrimp industry serving as a case study.

The Rise of Aquaculture 4.0

Aquaculture 4.0, the integration of digital technologies into aquaculture practices, promises to revolutionize the industry. Precision technology can optimize yields, reduce waste, and improve environmental sustainability. However, this transition requires a skilled workforce capable of operating and leveraging these new tools.

The Human Factor

While the benefits of digital aquaculture are undeniable, the impact on shrimp farm workers is concerning. Research suggests a potential skills gap, as existing workers lack the digital literacy and technical expertise needed for new technologies. This could lead to job displacement, disconnection, and hinder industry growth.

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Research suggests that shrimp farming workplaces are slow to adopt digital technologies. This delay is due, in part, to a lack of skilled workers. Current training programs may not adequately prepare workers for the demands of a digital shrimp farm. Additionally, the shrimp farming workforce itself may have concerns about their ability to adapt to new technologies and the impact these changes may have on their jobs.

Building a Bridge: Skills and Training

Social cognitive career theory (SCCT) provides a framework for understanding how workers adapt to changing professional landscapes. It is crucial to upskill and reskill the existing workforce. Training programs focused on specific digital skills required for shrimp farming, as described in the Agricultural Workforce Digital Capability Framework (AWDCF), are essential.

AWDCF consists of six key skill areas including digital literacy, technology operation, data management, digital communication, incident management, and data monitoring analysis and interpretation.

Beyond Technical: The Importance of Interpersonal Skills

Interpersonal skills such as communication, problem-solving, and adaptability are equally important in a digital workplace. Research highlights the variety of valuable interpersonal skills in shrimp farming. However, further exploration is needed to understand how these skills can be leveraged to facilitate technology adoption.

Key Digital Capacities

The study identified a variety of digital capabilities required by shrimp farm workers, with specific needs varying by job role:

  • Basic Users: Seasonal workers and beginners need basic skills in using tablets, smartphones, and spreadsheet software like Excel for data entry and collection.
  • Intermediate Users: Supervisors and managers require more advanced digital knowledge, including the ability to troubleshoot software and devices, and perform data analysis using spreadsheets.
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Data Skills Are Paramount

Data collection, analysis, and interpretation are crucial aspects of shrimp farming in Industry 4.0. While basic data tracking can be done using tablets, supervisors and managers often conduct in-depth analysis using formulas and spreadsheets.

Closing the Digital Divide

Research revealed that most workers acquire digital skills through on-the-job training. This underscores the need for training programs to address skills gaps and equip workers with necessary digital tools.

Interpersonal Skills for the Digital Age

In addition to technical skills, interpersonal skills such as adaptability, collaboration, problem-solving, and critical thinking are essential for navigating digital transformation.

  • Adaptability: The ability to adapt to new technologies and changing work practices is crucial.
  • Collaboration: Collaboration among colleagues, researchers, and industry partnerships fosters innovation and knowledge exchange.
  • Problem-solving: Identifying potential technology applications to solve problems and troubleshooting are vital.
  • Critical thinking: Workers must evaluate the suitability of new technologies and their potential impact on the business.
  • Continuous Learning: The willingness to learn new skills is essential to keep pace with advances in digital technologies.
  • Strategic Planning: Effective planning is required to identify and implement new technologies that align with business goals.

Conclusion

The digital transformation of the shrimp farming industry presents exciting growth and efficiency opportunities. By investing in workforce improvement and reskilling, shrimp farms can empower their employees to harness the potential of digital technologies and ensure a sustainable future for the industry.

Significant research gaps still exist in our understanding of shrimp farm workers’ experiences with digital transformation. Further studies are needed to explore:

  • How shrimp farm workers experience the introduction of digital technologies.
  • The specific digital and social skill needs of the shrimp farming workforce.
  • The development of training programs tailored to the shrimp farming industry.
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The study was conducted in collaboration with the Australian Prawn Farmers Association and funded by the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries under the Agribusiness Digital Solutions Grant Program.

Reference (open access)
McDonald, N., Lovric, K., & Cosby, A. (2024). Skill Development in Current and Future Workers to Thrive in the Digital Aquaculture Industry. Aquaculture Journal, 4(1), 15-27. https://doi.org/10.3390/aquacj4010002