It is an exciting time for Queensland agriculture. As the value in the sector continues to climb so too does the number of Queenslanders employed and the demand for skilled workers. In the past five years, the number of people employed in the sector has increased by 10.8 per cent. In that same time, the number of Queenslanders employed across the food supply chain has increased by 7pc. While these increases may seem staggering, they point towards a revitalised sector that is seeking and offering employment in less traditional and more specialist roles, such as highly skilled managers.
Agriculture continues to feel the effects, challenges and opportunities that come with automation and technological advancements. It is therefore important that we continue to progress the work of the Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance to support the sector. Facilitated by QFF, the Alliance provides leadership and advice to government, service providers and other organisations on employment, skills, industry training and workforce planning issues on behalf of all Queensland agricultural industries.
The Alliance has been working on attracting new entrants to the industry, and equipping the available talent with the right skills. The Alliance supports initiatives that closely work with schools to promote careers in agriculture. The School to Industry Partnership Program (SIPP) engaged with over 10,000 students, teachers and community members showcasing the role of our modern agricultural sector. The Gateway Agribusiness Schools integrated agriculture in 43 active schools’ curriculums across the state.
Rapid changes driven by technology, market pressures and environmental conditions have more farmers demanding specialised advisers to assist them in adopting new ways to increase productivity and improve on-farm profitability. The Alliance responded to this challenge by providing professional development workshops to more than 90 advisers and established a pilot program to mentor a new generation of extension officers.
Equipping individuals with the right skills relies on aligning and balancing what is offered through education and training providers with the demands of employers. The Alliance is actively doing this by supporting initiatives such as the Queensland Agriculture Workforce Network (QAWN) and working directly with the vocational education and training (VET) sector. Encouragingly, VET commencements across Queensland agriculture have risen by 41 per cent over the past 12 months.
Agriculture needs flexible education models offering skill sets and micro-credentials to ensure workers can upskill to meet current and future work requirements. As such, the recent decision by the Department of Education and Training to extend the Farm Business Management course and open the door to participants with a Certificate IV or higher was welcome, and is an example of the Alliance’s ability to influence proactive reform to meet industry demands.
Recognising the important work of the Alliance, the re-elected State Government committed to three more years funding. While this is very welcome, a greater commitment is needed to establish a Workforce Planning Team that can oversee and coordinate efforts of industry to develop workforce strategies.
Agriculture remains the most diverse job market of any sector in the economy, and the workforce opportunities and challenges are continuing to grow. However, agriculture is not as structured and does not have the resources of other sectors, so without additional funding it will be difficult to get workforce planning right to underpin the workforce needed to realise the vibrant and thriving agricultural sector Queensland deserves.