“Failure to understand the absolute urgency for action by the training system, policy makers and the industry itself will not simply become an issue of skills deficit, it will leave our industry and our nation globally exposed both economically and climatically.”
Just before the devastation of the 2011 floods and the increased need for workers to help with regenerative efforts, Amanda Burdon wrote in Outback Magazine that Australian agriculture was in the grip of a serious labour and skills shortage:
“According to the Australian Farm Institute (AFI), the industry faces a shortage of at least 96,000 full-time and 10,000 part-time workers and that ‘will continue to worsen, driving up labour costs and limiting future growth in the sector’. ”
NFF manager of workplace relations, Denita Wawn, says:
“It’s a question of how we are going to operate over 45% of the Australian landmass over the next 50 years…
It involves questions of population sustainability, food security, migration policy and terms of trade.
If we are going to have a robust economy we need to have our two biggest industries – agriculture and mining – working at full capacity in regional Australia.”
“Innovators are sowing the seeds that will fill the gap”, writes Amanda.
WHAT SORT OF SEEDS?
1. Farmers are sponsoring experienced European workers on a 457 Temporary (Long-Stay) Visa as they can’t compete with the mining industry.
2. Although traditionally poor at developing career pathways, the sector is attempting to change perspectives and encourage tertiary study to create
a business-astute and technologically capable workforce.
3. Women are often under-recognised yet tend to be more qualified than their male counterparts on farm so more flexible learning processes would enable them to use their education and add value back to their business and industry.
4. The Indigenous population, a largely untapped resource, can make a strong contribution in pastoralism and tourism.
5. Backpackers and WOOFERs (Willing Workers On Organic Farms) help but are not a reliable workforce.
6. Schools in Queensland are attempting to inspire primary and secondary students to go into agriculture under the Gateway Schools to Agribusiness project.
7. IN a small WA town a nursery owner is providing flexible work hours to enable women, mainly mothers, to work around household requirements.
The Australian Agriculture Company – operating since 1824!! – works to maintain its 400-450 strong workforce. Recruitment officer Retha du Plessis says:
“Getting good tradespeople is our biggest challenge. We do compete with the mines when it comes to the attraction and retention of talent and therefore selling the lifestyle of living and working on a station, the team becoming a family, the fact that we look after our people and they become part of the community [is important].”
Narrabri in NW NSW has started a project called ‘Make It Work’ – a collective approach to developing a skilled workforce that can move between agriculture, coal and gas mining, local government, transport and civil engineering, depending on seasonal and economic requirements.
ARE we about to see ‘a level of change comparable to the great industrial and agricultural revolutions’?