Farmers will fund new secondary school curriculum resources across Australia in a bid to help future-proof their diverse industry by encouraging more school leavers to consider a variety of unfilled career options in agriculture.
The $59 billion farm production sector and its supporting services badly needs more tertiary trained recruits with skills in everything from business management to software engineering.
Peak cropping industry body GrainGrowers has used National Ag Day to launch its plans for an upgraded education outreach program targeting teenage students nearing their final school years.
The pilot plan, due to go live later next year, includes designing high school course modules and providing annual professional development opportunities for teachers across a range of academic disciplines.
We badly need more people with different skill sets across a whole range of areas in this industry
"It's not just about supporting ag teachers," said GrainGrowers' leadership and events general manager, Kaitlin Commins.
"Almost every degree course at university has an application in today's agricultural sector."
All school science and technology disciplines were high on GrainGrowers target list, but also geography, economics and design courses.
"We badly need more people with different skill sets across a whole range of areas in this industry," she said.
"As technology advances and there are tighter margins and more formal structures to navigate, agriculture needs to build capacity in areas as diverse as international trade, website development, environmental management and research."
Concerned about just how quickly their industry was changing and how many emerging technologies in farm supply chains required newly skilled operators, GrainGrowers' members have prioritised the need to cultivate awareness of agricultural processes and agribusiness in secondary schools.
In particular the grower body was focused on targeting teenagers at an age when they began seriously weighing up post-school careers or university course options.
The farm sector curriculum push would be aimed at students in Years 9 and 10, and would include practical demonstration materials.
Ms Commins said the partnership concept had already received hearty support from the teaching sector.
"Educators are expected to be all-knowing about so much these days - they're crying out for genuine resource support like this," she said.
"We've had overwhelmingly positive feedback."
The GrainGrowers organisation, which represents about 17,000 growers around Australia, already produces a "light touch" primary school outreach kit which offers teachers and students a chance to understand the basics about farms, growing crops and where food products like breakfast cereal, bread and cooking oils originate.
Ms Commins said GrainGrowers was now in the throes of engaging somebody with agricultural and teaching experience to compile a term-long curriculum proposal, with the aim of having a pilot course ready to test in the second half of 2021.
A professional development course for educators is also on the drawing board, based on GrainGrowers' popular annual grains innovation tour which takes government and industry policymakers, primarily from Canberra, on farms and through supply chain operations.
The whole project is likely to be expensive and is so far uncosted, but will be backed by GrainGrowers' not inconsiderable financial reserves which built up during its time as the parent body of then newly listed east coast grain handler, GrainCorp.
Early conversations with corporate agribusinesses and farming companies have also looked at seeking funding and product help.
"It's in the interests of everybody in this game to do what they can to help foster more interest in agriculture as a rewarding career," Ms Commins said.
"If we want to keep bright innovative minds in agriculture we need to support people through their education journey
"We need to be realistic about how it can be and adopted, but we'd like to see it start in a mix of urban and regional schools across the country as soon as possible."
She said many of the jobs or career choices now available in the ag sector would typically have been only considered relevant to city-based business or technology ventures in the past and had subsequently lured young people away from regional communities.
Now these roles were very much part of farming and farm services industries and could be based all over Australia, offering much greater work and lifestyle choices.
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