Jobs, jobs, jobs – this is one of the main problems facing agriculture today.
Talk to anyone in the wool sheds of Walcha, the cotton fields of Wee Waa, and even around the dining table in Wellington and they will all share their experiences with their struggle to find workers.
Throughout the pandemic and even when Mother Nature was throwing the worst at producers, agriculture exploded across all commodities with high prices and jaw-dropping returns, but the same cannot be said for our workforce. ‘artwork.
Type the word ‘agriculture’ into Seek and 5,433 jobs are created across Australia, including dairy farm workers, government managers, agronomists, site managers and technicians.
While people are there, recruiters say there is more competition for jobs and in many cases they now have to resort to headhunting.
At the same time, international and national border restrictions put in place to manage COVID-19 have undermined much of the seasonal workforce.
At GrainCorp, more than 100 positions are now open, which General Affairs Manager Jess Simons says will double in the coming months.
Roles range from Site Managers, Assistant Site Managers, Pest Control, Apprentices, Customer Experience, Human Resources, Commerce, Finance, Legal, Schedulers, Supervisors and 30 maintenance roles. Since January of this year, they have held 83 permanent positions, not counting seasonal workers.
“Like most industries, we’re having difficulty hiring for manufacturing trades and skills,” Ms. Simons said.
“We are looking for all levels of skills and experience – people can either take the opportunity to start a career in agriculture if they have no experience, and take advantage of our training programs which will help them become super efficient in the role, or take on a more experienced role and become part of an iconic Australian agribusiness.”
Ms Simons said Australia’s economy maintaining an unemployment rate of 4.2 per cent, the lowest since 2008, and set to drop below 4 per cent for the first time in a generation, had made it difficult for all employers .
“It’s a tight market and everyone is looking in the same talent pools,” she said.
“Like many companies, we have a strong retention plan in place and really focus on the benefits of flexible working, travel, professional learning and development, and short-term incentives. also a workplace rewards package with product discounts like RM Williams that never hurts.”
Jamie Mitchell, GrainCorp employee (which is featured on our cover) started an internship 22 years ago and is now responsible for the Narrabri area of the company.
His brothers Cameron and Scott followed in his footsteps and made careers in the business while his other brother Andrew also works in the industry as a farm manager.
“We have a great group of people we work with here and there’s such diversity in roles,” Mr Mitchell said.
“People think farming is just jumping on a tractor, but there are so many roles you wouldn’t even think of.
“Big companies like ours have diverse roles that are no different from city roles, but we get the lifestyle with it.”
Further west in Narrabri, Tammy Towns, who is a GrainCorp grain handler, said her message to people wishing to travel to the NSW area and countryside was to simply “try “.
“There are plenty of work opportunities here with companies that offer great training and career paths,” Ms. Towns said.
NSW Famers vice-chairman Xavier Martin said the past two years had “emptied the supply line” of workers who were already under pressure in the NSW region due to years of prolonged drought.
“COVID-19 and the onset of drought have made it difficult to scale your operation, especially when casual labor has been evacuated along with seasonal workers with border closures,” said said Mr. Martin.
Now, what I hear from farmers is that they are in competition with the trade, mining and transport sector which are also short of labour.
Xavier Martin, Vice President of NSW Famers
“Now what I hear from farmers is that they are competing with the trading sector, mining and transport which are also lacking in labour. This leaves farmers unable to compete at these often six-figure salary levels.”
Mr Martin said there was no one answer but several actions were needed, including government support with its various programs like the Pacific Workers Scheme.
He said there had also been large enrollments at institutes of higher learning where courses in Australia were overflowing with students due to graduate in the coming year.
“The graduate supply chain is imminent, there will be qualified graduates available but it won’t be tomorrow, rather it will be later this year,” he said.
Brett Price of Agricultural Appointments echoed Mr Martin’s sentiments saying there was a shortage in most sectors in the face of a booming economy.
“As a recruiter, we have to work hard to find people and be proactive about that,” Price said.
“It’s always a challenge to get the right people to go to the regions and with a shortage of qualified people we currently have to work harder to deliver results.
“Previously, you received candidates through advertising, but now the focus is more on identifying qualified candidates and pursuing opportunities.”
Mr Price said the government should encourage people to take up farming and that it should all start with education.
“We need to start talking in schools and encouraging students to pursue careers and showing them what opportunities there were.”
Meanwhile, there are currently a number of government programs focusing on agricultural employment, including Pacific Australia Labor Mobility, in which 3,542 workers are now employed across New South Wales. Among them, 1810 work in the meat industry and 1732 in horticulture.
At Tocal College, the AgSkilled 2.0 training program which began in October 2020 has expanded from the initial program to include not only the agricultural sector, but also horticulture and production viticulture.
This program delivered 214 courses to 1576 people at 111 sites across NSW with courses ranging from drones to agriculture, advanced spray application, introductory agronomy, harvesting operations, corporate governance and the Generation of Regional Outstanding Women (GROW).
Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders said most people were unaware of the benefits and different career paths that existed in the agriculture industry.
“It’s more than a job, it can provide a lifelong career with a real sense of reward, purpose, flexibility and balance,” Mr Saunders said.
“Farming can also provide significant financial opportunities – many employees aim and succeed at buying their own farm or land, growing their operation to become successful business owners.”