Getting young people excited about agriculture is crucial

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Horizon Scholars

AgriFutures Australia Managing Director John Harvey shares why the success of our industry relies on attracting young people to a career in agriculture.

It’s not news to anyone in our sector that Australian agriculture needs more young people with a diverse array of skills.

Within our networks, Professor Jim Pratley from Charles Sturt University and the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture talks about the fact that agriculture has always been a professional workforce but now we’re looking for a greater breadth of skills than ever.

As our sector expands, so too does the need for expertise from a variety of disciplines, science, communications, engineering and more. But the fact is we’re facing a demand vs supply challenge with advertisements for 3,000 to 4,000 agricultural jobs each year and universities producing only 800 to 900 graduates to fill these positions.

That’s why it can’t just be people who grow up on farms or in regional areas who study agriculture and pursue careers in our sector. We have to get young people from urban areas passionate about agriculture.

One way we’re working on this mission is by supporting the great work of the Primary Industries Education Foundation Australia (PIEFA), a registered charity committed to engaging and educating school students across Australia about food and fibre production and careers in agriculture.

Speaking at a online forum run by PIEFA, Scott Graham, Head of Department, Agriculture at Sydney’s Barker College called out the false assumption that urban students aren’t interested in agriculture.

Barker College is tapping into what Mr Graham calls an inherent desire in both students and parents to be connected to their food from paddock to plate. They’ve brought agriculture as a subject front and centre at the school because it’s part of everyday life and they’ve seen student numbers jump from 50 to 360 in the past 12 years.

The school is treating agriculture as a science subject, similar to biology and the students began to shift their perception of the curriculum. Agriculture was no longer a ‘bludge’ subject, it had ‘rigorous academic focus’.

Supporting young people studying agriculture is another important facet to building up our next generation of leaders and one way we do this is through the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship Program.

This year we’re thrilled to announce 20 new Horizon scholarships valued at $10,000 over two years, thanks to support from our industry sponsors, to students from both metropolitan and regional universities. We received over 90 applications, which is more than previous years, and I’m pleased to say the scholarships have been awarded to students from both regional and city-based universities.

That there is a growing interest in agriculture careers and study is also demonstrated by the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture data that university enrolments are up across the board for 2021.

When the Council asked these new students what motivated them to study agriculture, the recent changes to fees didn’t come up. What they talked about instead is a genuine passion for agriculture and the desire for a career where they can make a difference.

What’s clear is that all these students – whether in high school or at university – are going to have careers that are both rewarding and challenging. They’ll work in the cities and in regional areas, and the message we want to make sure young people receive is that agriculture can be their pathway to making a difference.

Horizon Scholars

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