‘Skills from the Bush’

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We’ve started buying from the bush and staying in the bush, and now previous Horizon Scholar, Emily Sinderberry says it’s time to access skills from the bush.

Agriculture might as well be part of Emily’s DNA, growing up an hour from Condobolin, NSW on her family farm, she can’t remember a time when her life wasn’t the epitome of the rural Australian lifestyle.

Emily has been busy since her time in the Horizon Scholarship Program where she was sponsored by GRDC – between agriculture and accounting degrees, a role at an accounting firm, running her own small business EJS Business Services and most recently, launching The Virtual Cooee. One common thread knits together these endeavours, and that’s a passion for supporting rural businesses, especially those owned by rural women.

In the middle of 2020, The Virtual Cooee was born through The Rural Women’s Seed Scheme Program.

“Libby Roesner and I formulated the idea of The Virtual Cooee and we had to pitch it as if we were pitching to investors. The idea came from Libby’s time at Landcare Australia, where she wanted a virtual assistant but didn’t know how to find someone and hoped to avoid hiring someone overseas who lacked the knowledge of Australian agriculture,” said Emily.

Emily herself knows all too well what it’s like living remotely and the challenges of needing to work online, and knew there were so many other women in the same boat.

“I saw skilled women living on farm who were ex-lawyers and ex-accountants who would end up starting a jewellery business or similar, just to create a sense of purpose and make their own money.

“But we thought, if we created an online hub where they can offer their services and be paid for the work they are actually passionate about, then it had to be a good thing,” Emily explains.

So between Libby who knew what it was like to need reliable, Australian based remote workers, and Emily who resonated with the challenges of finding flexible and remote work, the pair had the first hand experience and passion required to bring their idea to life.

“We know when you are on a farm, you need to be able to go out and move vehicles, help with cattle work, or whatever might be happening, so you need flexibility and to be able to work when it suits you. That’s where we come in, people on the Virtual Cooee Hub can choose as many or as little jobs as they want and work when it suits them.

“We have changed the definition of virtual assistant too, I used to think of it as just admin, but it’s a much bigger scope than that now. It really is a one stop shop, you can get someone to do your design, your admin, your editing and so many more tasks -all from the one place,” Emily explains.

Emily describes their platform as being similar to Airtasker or upwork, except their virtual assistants are all rural and regional Australian women.

According to Emily, there’s something for everyone in rural Australia. From an office job in a regional centre, to working on farm or spending time on the road working alongside producers, she sees potential for all.

“I never thought I’d end up in rural accounting, but here I am! And I don’t really have a plan for the future, I’ll see where the wind blows me. What I do know though, is that whatever I end up doing, it will be in rural Australia.

“Thankfully for us, I think people are realising these rural women aren’t all standing out in the paddock, wearing an Akubra with straw hanging out their mouth. And I think COVID-19 and working from home has had a big part to play in that. It’s all about education and we all have a responsibility in making sure we convey that our women are skilled, reliable and genuine,” Emily said.

However, there’s still work to be done to build our agricultural workforce and Emily believes showcasing real images of rural Australia will be key.

“The media is what is in people’s ears. We need to be sharing our stories in city households, and showing them what we look like, how we talk and who we are. We’ve got amazing businesses being supported by Buy from the Bush and Stay in the Bush, which is fantastic. I think it is time to push skills from the bush.

“We need people to see images of a rural solicitor or rural journalist, saying ‘This is what a rural woman looks like’, because when you search images of rural women, especially stock photos, you get a woman overseas digging in a vegetable patch. And that’s just not reflecting the diversity of Australian agriculture, it fails to showcase the whole picture,” Emily explains.

Reflecting on her own experience working in the agriculture space, Emily’s advice to others considering taking the leap is to just dive in.

“You are never stuck in a role or career. Opportunities can pop up in so many places, so try something you’re interested in – who knows where you’ll end up!”

That’s exactly what Emily did when she applied for the AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship, and as they say, ‘the rest is history’.

“The networking aspect of the Horizon Scholarship Program was fantastic, and so was the professional development. I also felt like it gave me a real confidence boost and encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone.

I put my hand up for so many opportunities like that, because you walk away with something different from each and every one of them,” Emily says.

Applications are now open for the 2022 AgriFutures Horizon Scholarship Program.

Find out more

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