One of the most surprising things I uncovered during my research into careers in agriculture was the lack of student work placement options in some areas of NSW.
For some students completing a VET qualification in agriculture, they were doing their mandatory placement at Bunnings.
This blew my mind. It's a real issue that students can't access high quality placements and careers advisors and teachers don't have established connections to find these. Often this is there first exposure to what a career in agriculture looks like. And it can't be that inspiring to a young person passionate about agriculture to be placed at a retail nursery or pet grooming parlour.
The lack of placement opportunities is just one of the many issues our industry will need to address if we want the next generation to consider a career in agriculture.
I am a Principal Research Fellow in Agri-tech Education and Extension at CQUniversity Australia and lead a team that develops and evaluates innovative programs across Australia to attract, retain and build the capacity of the current and next generation agricultural workforce. Our work aims to showcase how that agricultural industry is using technology and innovative practices to sustainably grow food and fibre for the global population, and why young people should want a job in the sector.
Working closely with industry, one of the most common statements I hear is that career advisors need to be doing more to encourage students to pursue jobs in agriculture.
However, I believe career advisors are just one part of the equation and are typically under resourced and time poor.
They can have hundreds of students with whom they need to provide opportunities, experiences and advice to, and with only limited time to do so.
It's up to everyone in schools and the agricultural industry to encourage school students to consider careers in agriculture.
Careers advisors work in an incredibly noisy environment, with various industries trying to attract high school students to build their workforce.
They are pulled by defence, health, construction - everyone wants the career advisors to promote their industry's respective career path. It's really competitive. As an industry, agriculture needs to step up and assist careers advisors and schools to showcase the available careers.
A career in agriculture is also not a linear path.
You don't always just go to uni, get a degree in agriculture and then start working in a job which directly relates to your degree, so it can be a difficult path for careers advisors to help students navigate. Vocational education, traineeships, degrees in other disciplines are all viable pathways to a career in agriculture. We need to be better at sharing the options out there.
By far the best way to expose students to agricultural jobs in Australia is to show them. And this hands-on experience is something which we need to become better at.
I'm a dairy farmer so I know it can be challenging to invite Year 10 or 11 students onto a farm, with little or no experience, and then give them tasks to do without close supervision, which can be challenging with so many competing priorities in a business.
I appreciate we need to be better at helping workplaces navigate the placement process. However, at the moment there is a lack of placement opportunities, so students are not getting the exposure, or the positive experiences they need to be convinced to follow a career in agriculture.
If you are not immersed in it, you are not aware of the jobs available. Everyone is short of time but if we don't invest in young people, we don't have a future workforce.
Careers advisors, teachers, students and the community need to be made aware of the unique agricultural jobs in Australia - and it's up to us to talk about all the various careers in agriculture.
A student might be really creative so a careers advisor might suggest a career in marketing.
This is great but what about a marketing career in ag?
For example, encourage the student to do a work placement where they design a new label for a premium dairy product.
Or they might be interested in science. So get the student on a placement where they are soil profiling and testing and learning what the best fertiliser is to use based on the data.
There are so many unique and varied roles in agriculture and they all require different skills-sets, and personalities but the difficulty is in getting people to go beyond their thinking of what a career in ag could look like, that's where the face-to-face interaction and learning experiences are just so important.
If we can improve our promotion, be more competitive and get better at opening our doors and talking about all the exciting careers in agriculture, we will be a step closer to addressing the labour shortage across the industry.
You can't be what you can't see.
If we don't know about a job in agriculture, we won't be likely to pursue it.
- Amy Cosby has recently published a report titled: Cultivating the next generation: The role of school-based educators in promoting agricultural careers for AgriFutures Australia.