Student solution to staffing issues

20 Dec, 2014 01:00 AM
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WA College of Agriculture, Cunderdin, students Luke Sutherland (left), Brody Bauer, Christopher Hasson, WA Premier Colin Barnett, Jeremy Bryan, Jayden McPherson and Lachlan Wiltshire discuss their harvest experience during the Premier's recent tour of the Wheatbelt.
It is an absolute pleasure to work with them.
WA College of Agriculture, Cunderdin, students Luke Sutherland (left), Brody Bauer, Christopher Hasson, WA Premier Colin Barnett, Jeremy Bryan, Jayden McPherson and Lachlan Wiltshire discuss their harvest experience during the Premier's

FINDING staff for harvest can sometimes be a struggle, but one Wubin farmer has found a solution, employing his son and friends from one of WA's agricultural colleges.

The group of WA College of Agriculture, Cunderdin, students are paid employees on Paul Sutherland's farm, taking on roles including driving the chaser bin and header.

Mr Sutherland, who normally hires a contingent of backpackers to help with harvest on his 18,000 hectare cropping operation, said it was a pleasure to have the students on board.

"We might get 10-20 per cent of backpacker staff that are interested or have a background in agriculture but these boys are interested in nothing else than what their job was," he said.

"It is an absolute pleasure to work with them.

"They were always watching, learning and asking questions and they took everything on board and applied it to what they were doing."

Mr Sutherland and his wife Melissa are past students of the school and their son Luke is a current student and it's likely their four remaining boys, Shane, 14, Jack, 12, Ben, 10, and Dale, 7 won't be far behind.

"I think working on a real farm over harvest gave them a comprehensive understanding of what harvest is really like," he said.

"They learnt the intricacies of harvest, the team work needed to finish harvest and how to use the machinery and technology in a practical situation."

Mr Sutherland said the work ethic displayed by the students and their willingness to work all shifts and in any role made them great employees.

The group of six boys began working for Mr Sutherland in November once their academic studies were completed.

He said he hoped to continue using the students from the Cunderdin College in this way in the future.

WA College of Agriculture, Cunderdin, deputy principal Travis Hooper said the school aimed to provide students with practical skills that would be attractive to future employers.

As a part of the school's agriculture focus, students participate in working on the site's operational farm, rotating in roles from butchering to machine maintenance and livestock management.

"We talk about preparing the students for the workplace, and the proof is in the pudding that these students after a year with us are able to go out and work on commercial operations," Mr Hooper said.

"The majority of our students leave here at the end of Year 11 and go to work in the agricultural industry and we have a reputation for producing students that can go on and do this without a great deal of training.

"Even though students will quite often specialise in particular areas and fields of interest, it's important that the students get as broad an education as possible.

"We're preparing them with skills not just for next year, but for five to 10 years down the track."

Mr Hooper said the group who worked at Mr Sutherland's farm this harvest showed how important it was to gain as much experience as possible through all avenues in their chosen industry.

"The fact that employers are engaging in employing these kids in large numbers is a fairly good indication of the level of respect for our training," he said.

"There are all sorts of seasonal summer jobs, but the fact that these students are picking up jobs in the field of agriculture is very heartening for us.

"It displays that we're training our students with skills that employers actually want."

The students also had an unexpected surprise last week when WA's Premier Colin Barnett dropped into the Sutherland farm. Mr Barnett was on a tour of the northern Wheatbelt and took time to talk to the students and even jumped on a header to take some crop off.

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