Good jobs aplenty in agriculture while city unemployment rises

Andrew Marshall
By Andrew Marshall
Updated September 9 2020 - 12:43am, first published 9:45pm
Rural sector headhunters say for a fraction of the cost of buying a home in a capital city plenty of skilled and semi-skilled workers could escape the COVID-19 recession living on good wages in vibrant regional centres such as Dalby, Dubbo, Parkes or Horsham.

While Australia's coronavirus pandemic problems push national unemployment numbers above 1 million, the rural sector is frantically trying to fill job vacancies across a wide spectrum of trades and professions.

Not only are farmers worried about finding enough seasonal labour to fill harvest roles in the horticulture and grain sectors this summer, a host of mainstream positions, from mechanics to distribution and financial management jobs, remain in hot demand in many country towns.



The pay rates are also generally remarkably attractive according to job recruiting specialists.

In fact, recruiters are surprised more applicants from metropolitan areas have not taken advantage of regional vacancies and the chance to escape locked up city living.

Although the national jobless rate has climbed near 7.5 per cent they reported few signs of the coronavirus recession impacting job openings or agribusiness activity in the bush.

"Initially, in March businesses put job recruitment plans on hold, but it lasted just a few weeks - demand returned to normal, and just got busier," said Agricultural Appointments managing director Ray Johnson.

"Across the board we're filling jobs from farm manager's roles, to field operations positions, sales, and even quite a few CEO vacancies."

Bucking the jobs trend

A national review by Rimfire Resources found just 4.6pc cent of agribusinesses had made redundancies because of a coronavirus-related earnings drop and only 9pc cut employee working hours.

In stark contrast, the wider Australian job market saw about 24pc of businesses laying off staff, and 53pc cutting hours.

While hard economic times generally meant modest upward pressure on wages, Rimfire said most agribusiness organisations it surveyed had budgeted for higher salaries in 2020-21.

Generally speaking the ag sector is holding up very well in what have been challenging economic times across the economy

- Mick Hay, Rimfire Resources

Fortunately regional areas, which have struggled for several years with drought-reduced on-farm and community cash flow, have been energised by rain and the prospect of big grain crops and rising irrigation sector job options into 2021.

Meat and livestock sector demand and prices also remain bullish and stimulating the rural economy.

National rural job advertisements for June and July were 11.7pc and 11.2pc above 2019 figures.

"There's no doubt people weren't hiring as often during drought years, or scaled back staff in many areas, but now there is a cautious rebuild and optimism across agriculture," said Rimfire managing director Mick Hay

"Generally speaking the ag sector is holding up very well in what have been challenging economic times across the economy."

Mick Hay

Some industries like horticulture were constantly short of staff, from harvest and processing workers through to spray rig operators and technical recruits with on-farm water or agronomy management capabilities.

Where are the tradies?

"Very rarely are there enough good tradesmen about - the bush is crying out for tradies," he said.



"If you've got mechanical, building or electrical skills there are likely to be jobs on offer in the sugar industry, abattoirs, cotton gins, or any number of other options in regional centres or big farming businesses."

Drought and the mining industry's drain on the rural skills market in the past 15 years had created an ongoing shortage.

"Machinery sales businesses and earthmoving companies often need workshop and field technicians - skills which are pretty transportable from urban Australia to the bush," Mr Hay said.

"For a fraction of the cost of buying a home in a capital city you could be earning much the same money living in a regional centre like Roma, Dalby or Dubbo or Parkes.

"These are well serviced and vibrant communities."

Interestingly, some of the most typical vacancy categories in the bush were not related to any obvious skills drain and were hard to explain, said Dr Johnson at Agricultural Appointments.



Merchandise managers

Branch manager positions in rural supplies and distribution stores were often slow to fill in mid-sized towns with populations between 8000 and 15,000.

Also in demand were people with financial training, and agronomists were always needed "even when things were so dry last year".

A merchandise business manager may earn $90,000 to $120,000 a year, plus super, and a vehicle

- Ray Johnson, Agricultural Appointments

"These are pretty well paid roles, too" he said.

"A merchandise business manager may earn $90,000 to $120,000 a year, plus super, and the job usually includes a vehicle," he said.

"Accounting and governance skills are also needed by agribusinesses of all sizes and would be considered very transferable from city to the bush.



"But even with salary offers of $100,000 to $160,000 or more, it can be hard to get the right people to move."

"Even machinery workshop jobs in town, or on farms, tend to pay above-award rates."

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Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall

National agribusiness writer

Andrew Marshall is the group agribusiness writer for ACM's state agricultural weeklies and websites. He is a former editor at The Land and has worked in various Rural Press group roles in Canberra, North Richmond (NSW) and Toowoomba (Qld).

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