Designed to gather a range of sector views on how to attract, train and retain an agricultural workforce, the forum held in Narrabri heard from NSW Farmers, both the Cotton and Grains Research and Development Corporations, Sheep Cooperative Research Centre, along with UNE Academics and the Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.
Forum convener Professor David Lamb says while there was a wide range of views across the sector, some similar themes emerged.
“The idea that agriculture has an image problem when seen by young people as a potential career was certainly a consistent message across the forum. We heard the old myth is still in circulation that doing an Ag degree is a poor second to courses like IT, Law or Business. Yet a career in Agriculture includes all those dimensions and more.”
He said turning that outdated image around will need a combined approach, bringing together a range of sectors who all share the same challenges in securing and maintaining a workforce.
“We need to bring the sexy back to jobs in agriculture, by developing attractive training packages, which can pick up people at any point in their career. These packages need to reflect that Agriculture is a dynamic, constantly evolving and, yes, high-tech sector.
“Whether that potential workforce is a school leaver or someone in mid-career considering a change into the Ag sector, they all want the same thing, access to a flexible, career focused education which can be joined at various points and offers a range of different qualifications.
“Farming these days is much more than a single dimension task like weed chipping used to be.
“To have job ready people for the Ag sector into the future, they need to be trained with the skills needed to fill a range of positions across the value chain.”
Professor Lamb says the UNE Agriculture Workforce Forum was useful in highlighting some of the labour challenges facing the Ag sector, the next big task is welding those views and proposed solutions into a robust, cross sector solution.