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8th Feb 2024

Charting Aquaculture’s Course Sustainable Growth and Talent Dynamics

8th Feb 2024

Aquaculture is considered one of the most sustainable sectors to produce protein and has leading companies in the space dominating the top ten most sustainable food production companies it plays a vital role in many communities providing jobs and economic stability. The aquaculture industry being in its relatively early stages of development in comparison to other protein production sectors (poultry, pork, and beef) leaves much for development and that combined with population growth and growing pressures on wild catch, it has a huge opportunity to grow if managed correctly.

It is not always a positive in the sector, although there have been major developments, there are still core challenges with disease, escapes, and traditionally higher costs of production than other protein sectors.

The recent two years have been exciting and challenging within the space, there have been great developments forward within the Recirculating Aquaculture Systems (RAS) but there are some lessons to be learnt, and there still needs to be further work to make this a commercially viable option.

There has been a significant cost increase in production across the value chain, whether it be feed which can contribute to between 60-80 percent of production costs of aquaculture organisations depending on species and companies, or labour or supply chain. That combined with the lower buying power due to increased cost of living has resulted in the sector being hit from both sides. This does not include the higher tax rate increase in Norway affecting some of the largest aquaculture companies which has an inverse indirect impact on the sector whether it be through investment opportunities, growth projects, procurement, and suppliers.

It’s not all doom and gloom, there are many companies within the Salmon, Shrimp, or Tilapia spaces that are diversifying and looking at ways to add value whether it be through production, supply chain, or extending Value Added Product lines to support the margin requirements.

Diversification of the sector

For the industry to progress and develop, like other industries before, it will need to evolve and diversify. That could be through fine-tuning existing production methodology or developing new production techniques whether it be RAS or Offshore Aquaculture, incorporating the latest technologies such as AI, the production of new species like Seaweed or endemic species to specific regions or within the feed, and exploring alternative protein through Omega 3 or Insects to support sustainable production of fish. One way for organisations to diversify is through the acquisition of companies, products, or services to increase their offering and consolidate key areas to improve efficiencies across the group.

Although there have been developments regarding gender diversification in the industry with an increasing number of females having an interest and joining the space, it is still largely male-dominated. To address this and make it a more attractive career, I believe this needs to be addressed at a grassroots level and made aware through universities or educational systems that this is a viable career choice for anyone interested.

Recruitment strategy and challenges

Although traditional recruitment strategy can be seen as a standard process, key areas can differentiate between search partners. One of the fundamental areas would be having a genuine interest and understanding of the industry that allows me to have a deeper grasp on the industry, core challenges, and strong network, I am very fortunate to have studied aquaculture and worked in the sector for close to ten years.

Not every search or organisation is the same, it is key to tailor the search process and methodology to align with the organisation and what it is looking to achieve with the hiring process as there must be alignment not only with the candidate but for the candidate to integrate with the company, the geography in which they will be operating in and ability to take on the position and the responsibilities of the role.

To an agreed timeline for the whole process, we start with taking a very detailed brief regarding the organisation – where there are as a business currently and what they are looking to accomplish in the short and long term, the location – is this a single status type role or family-friendly, regional challenges whether that be uncertainty or security or remoteness etc, are there schools in the area or ability to support a family environment, the position itself – understanding its responsibilities, where they would like the candidate to come from – background, what they want candidates to bring with them – accomplishments, what key areas this role will be measured by in the first year and what they are looking to attain with this individual coming onboard – abilities, type of person who would fit into the role and organization based on what they are looking to achieve – characteristics. It is always good to determine for each role the nice to haves and non-negotiables for the role for candidates for the role.

From there, we go to the market and this is done over a three prong approach – look at our internal network and database of prior candidates we have worked with that we feel would be appropriate for the role, – we conduct a full talent map, identifying candidates in the market based off the brief allowing us to identify and speak with candidates that are actively in the market but also passive candidates that weren’t actively looking, – we also conduct referrals from candidates/clients that operate close to the market and have also a good understanding of people in specific regions or positions.

Once identified, we take the candidates through a three stage qualification process to understand their level of engagement, whether that be for relocation to a specific region, level of interest in changing positions, and ensuring economic alignment for a change. We then take the progressed candidates through a deeper interview-like qualification process to discuss their background, accomplishments, abilities, and characteristics about the company, and the region they will be operating in and measure them against the requirements to be successful in the role.

We then submit an agreed shortlist and support the interview process with the client, take references, and depending on the client and if of interest we can also conduct psychometric testing, and at the end of the process we support the offer management.

Some of the core challenges in the talent space are areas where the evolution of industry has outgrown the talent available this is especially seen within RAS where there is a talent gap causing a bottleneck. This is from limited production and proven expertise, especially at that senior or executive level resulting in talent being identified from other sectors and combined with aquaculture professionals to provide biological knowledge. This has resulted in many organisations looking at exploring engineers from universities to develop their aquaculture knowledge in-house to support their ambitions and universities developing programs to support this transition. So there is a lag in talent but in the upcoming years, it looks like it will be addressed.

What the future looks like

As the world becomes smaller with the ability to have more choices regarding products, the customers have more power to determine where they would like their products from and how they would like them produced – sustainability and animal welfare being top of mind. This has resulted in organisations rethinking their production methodologies to enhance fish welfare, growing fish closer to markers to reduce supply chain resulting in a reduction of CO2 emissions, using of latest technologies to improve production efficiencies, or looking at other sectors such as seaweed and molluscs, fish health or within feed with the use of alternative proteins, or omega 3 extracts or insect to make it more sustainable. I do feel feed has the potential to make a huge impact within the aquaculture industry can industrialise the alternative protein feeds and make it price competitive with traditional feed while still keeping the integrity of the feed and food conversion ratios at a good level.

From a talent perspective, as a growing industry, there will be a need for talent to support that growth. Being proactive rather than reactive in the market will help with any talent challenges, that may be through having succession plans and development programmes in place, pipeline management for potential future growth plans, up-to-date talent maps, and salary benchmarking to ensure you are competitive in the market. Working closely with universities to develop programmes through internships, supporting employability, or exchanging IP to enhance current capabilities. This doesn’t remove any risk relating to talent but does increase the potential funnel of talent and add a stronger support structure around talent to reduce risk.

In a very competitive market, there will always be movement of talent from one company to another. The retention of key talent is key, so having a clear map and understanding of what needs to be achieved to progress internally and having the ability to upskill through programmes – internally or externally whilst being competitive in the market with salary and wider packages will help with keeping good talent.

by Angus Collett, Partner, Millar Cameron, UK

Written for and originally published by International AquaFeed and Fish Farming Technology magazine:

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