Training workers for Tamworth's chicken boom

Published 25 July 2018

Poultry Hub, based at the University of New England (UNE), is working on an innovative training program that it hopes will help not only the regional chicken industry, but will serve as a model for the other agricultural sectors struggling with labour shortages.

Poultry Hub is developing its model as one of 17 finalists in the Department of Industry’s Youth Employment Innovation Challenge, a novel program that encourages organisations to take embryonic ideas on youth employment and germinate them through a structured process. The most viable ideas will be eligible for further funding support to allow the concepts to be put into action.

“Poultry Hub was spun out of the Poultry Cooperative Research Centre with the brief to build capacity in the poultry industry,” said the Hub’s Director, Dr Tamsyn Crowley.

“There are another 64 chicken sheds planned for the Tamworth region over the next few years, and they will need another 600 workers. There are going to be a lot of entry-level jobs in the sector, and those positions offer plenty of room to grow into other positions.”

Poultry Hub’s proposed youth training enterprise will involve classroom training at UNE’s Tamworth precinct on essential practices around issues like biosecurity and health and safety. To make the learning a little less dry, Dr Crowley said, some of the course will be interactive, “and we have also managed to include Lego”.

“Although the majority of training will be done at Tamworth, we will have a hands-on component at UNE’s state-of-the-art poultry facilities in Armidale. The industry doesn’t want to take on trainees who have never actually picked up a chicken, so we want to give people a good grounding in the physical aspects of the job.”

The poultry industry — in common with other agricultural sectors — already has a shortage of reliable workers with knowledge of the business. The industry’s expansion plans hinge on a broadening and deepening of its employment pool.

“The industry tells us one of the biggest issues they have is just getting people to turn up to work,” Dr Crowley said.

“I think there’s an opportunity here to help workers understand that they are part of a business, and what impact failure to show up for work has on that business.”

“Even things like health and safety need to be better understood. It would help the industry if their workers knew from the outset why safety glasses are important.”

Poultry Hub is one of 17 “startup or scaleup” businesses to remain in the Youth Employment Innovation Challenge after 77 initial applications.

The team must go through a 12-week incubation period, including weekly attendance at workshops in Sydney, to learn how to progress an idea into a business.

The concepts considered viable at the end of the 12-week period will be eligible for up to $600,000 in funding support to roll out a functioning business.