New programs helping to overcome our workforce challenges

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By Michael Beer, AgriFutures Australia General Manager, Business Development

As we continue to feel the pinch of workforce shortages, new programs and initiatives are being rolled out across the sector designed to not only attract people into agriculture but keep them here for the long haul.

Industry organisations, businesses and advocacy groups alike are focused on what workers really want and making sure that agricultural careers are attractive to and meet the needs of a new generation.

Dairy Australia is highlighting the environmental and social responsibility elements of working in their industry in its latest campaign Dairy Jobs Matter. They’ve recognised that people not only want a stable income but an opportunity to make a contribution to a healthier world through environmental stewardship and the chance to provide best-practice care to animals, all while building a long-term career.

The cotton industry meanwhile is taking a psychological approach, with its latest initiative focused on shifting mindset, behaviours and culture. The result is SHIFT, a new workforce development framework looking at mechanisms to achieve high performance from workers, ensure their engagement and satisfaction, and ultimately deliver better production outcomes.

Long-standing programs such as the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship are a testament to the evolution of our future workforce, with a refocus in recent years on supporting and investing in university students with skills and interests outside of the traditional agricultural science background looking to forge a career in rural industries.

2022 scholars like Luke Austin from Coffs Harbour with his passion for sustainability and marine ecology and Sydneysider Tom McPherson who is firmly focused on how technology can be effective, might not come from traditional agriculture backgrounds but they bring new and exciting perspectives to the sector. Their experiences also reaffirm that once people get even a taste of working in agriculture, they feel positive about joining the sector.

That’s where organisations like the Primary Industries Education Foundation Australia’s (PIEFA) work is important because it embeds the value of Australian food and fibre production into the national consciousness through classroom resources, career pathways and experiences for students. PIEFA is working on ways to weave agricultural career opportunities into conversations with school students who are interested in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and integrating primary industries understanding into all these subject areas.

The AgCAREERSTART gap year program, funded by National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) and the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF), gives young people a chance to gain skills and knowledge and build life-long connections in our sector.

Plus there are industry-specific examples like the thoroughbred horse industry’s Fast Track accelerated learning experience which provides 12 months of employment and mentorship on a respected stud farm and culminates in achieving a formal qualification.

You know all too well how hard it is to find people to fill your myriad of job opportunities across the agriculture sector. And that’s one of the reasons why workforce and leadership continue to be a strategic priority for AgriFutures Australia for the next five years. Programs are evolving and there is a renewed effort to attract people from all walks of life, with a diversity of skills and interests to support our future workforce needs.

If the events of recent years have taught us anything, it’s that Australia’s food and agricultural sector is vital to our economy. There’s never been a better time to consider a career in ag, and there is a huge variety of pathways available to deliver on the nation’s workforce needs. I believe if we can show people what it’s like to work with us and give them opportunities to experience it first-hand then we will be well on our way to future success.

If you’re a young person studying an agriculture-related undergraduate degree or a STEM degree then we encourage you to apply for an AgriFutures Horizon scholarship. Applications close 5pm AEDT Friday, 13 January 2023.

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