A GROUP of aviation pilots stood down due to international border closures will be driving headers instead of flying overhead this harvest.
International pilot for a major Asian airline Dean McKie was one of three pilots who undertook the 2 Workin Oz residential entry-level farm harvest and heavy machinery skills course last week to make himself more employable in the sector.
After flying for WA Police and working for a commercial airline the past 18 years, Mr McKie said he had already found some similarities between the two industries.
"It will be a bit of fun and our skill set is something that can be transferred over to driving the headers because the technology on them is quite advanced, so I'm looking forward to having a crack," Mr McKie said.
Having grown up in the Kimberley with a father who worked in the cattle and meat works industry, Mr McKie said agriculture wasn't an entirely foreign concept to him and that he was open to living regionally again if that's where the work was.
"Starting off in the aviation industry you usually have to go bush for a while when you're working for the little charter companies, so I really don't mind where I work," Mr McKie said.
The three pilots are among 36 recipients of the Grain Industry Association of WA (GIWA) subsidised courses for the 2 Workin Oz program.
Designed to upskill seasonal labourers for this year's harvest season, GIWA Careers in Grain offered a 75 per cent subsidy for the training program in York, equating to $712 per participant.
GIWA Careers in Grain program manager Kayla Evans said that pilots had extremely relevant and transferable skill sets to become header operators.
"They are systems thinkers, used to working with sophisticated large pieces of machinery, highly trained in terms of safety and people and are also happy to jump down and do the maintenance and cleaning," Ms Evans said.
"The pilots who have undertaken the course have adapted very quickly and in the spirit of the State government's Work and Wander campaign we are really looking forward to seeing them in the paddock."
Ms Evans said while jobs weren't guaranteed at the end of the course, all of the participants would be supported on how to look for work through recruitment channels and the GIWA and 2 Workin Oz's networks.
GIWA chief executive officer Larissa Taylor said GIWA had been contributing to COVID-19 grain supply chain labour issues since the start of the year.
"The COVID-19 international border closures mean farm businesses are short international 417/462 visa workers and need unskilled (chaser bins) and skilled (headers) seasonal workers to help harvest the 2020 grain crop," Ms Taylor said.
"Providing the industry with adequate labour this harvest is critical.
"We were looking for ways to think outside the box, attract new entrants into the industry and help them skill up in an effective way."
Ms Taylor said she had been delighted with the response to the scholarship program and that the last three places would be filled by mid to late September.
"I encourage anyone considering the course to apply immediately," Ms Taylor said.
2 Workin Oz founder and manager Ley Webster said the pilots that had participated in the course so far had adapted well to the work and were "very capable".
"They were a little bit skeptical about whether they needed to do the course initially, but I think they've realised how beneficial it has been to them," Ms Webster said.
"A few of them had been pilots in remote and regional areas so they've had to multi-skill and those skills are transferable and I think they will do really well in the industry."
While Mr McKie's career as a pilot offered a good lifestyle and remuneration, he said he was looking forward to a new challenge.
"I do miss my job but it will be a new experience and you need to make hay while the sun shines," Mr McKie said.