SCHOOL leavers in regional areas wondering what they might do for a career, should make a point of calling in at their local agricultural machinery dealership.
The range of career options and willingness to take on trainees might surprise - and provide some relief for parents.
WA's agricultural industry is short of workers right across the jobs spectrum - from needing people to drive chaser bin tractors this harvest through to people who can service and repair the equipment and even people to sell the equipment in the first place.
The State's three biggest agricultural machinery dealership groups each run their own training programs in conjunction with TAFE for service and repair technicians because of the difficulty in finding and retaining good staff in regional areas.
But now the biggest dealership group, AFGRI Equipment with 19 dealerships, plans to take that range of supported training a step further in the new year, building on its existing relationship with Central Regional TAFE at Moora.
The AFGRI Academy already partners with Central Regional TAFE Moora to deliver a Certificate III in Ag Mechanical Technology (AUR30416) as part of its four-year agricultural technician apprentice training and a Certificate II in Automotive Parts Sales (AUR31036) as part of its two-year traineeship for parts sales representatives.
AFGRI's first cohort of 14 qualified technicians completed their course this year.
It is hoping to attract between 30 and 35 regional school leavers to start its agricultural technician apprenticeship course in February.
It has 26 signed up so far.
AFGRI has another 19 apprentices completing their second year of the course this year to become technicians and 15 completing their third year.
It has vacancies for apprenticeships at five branches - Wongan Hills, Carnamah, Dalwallinu, Narrogin and Gnowangerup.
It is also seeking another four regional school leavers prepared to undertake its two-year parts sales traineeship.
This traineeship has proved a pathway to greater success for two of its original cohort which graduated two years ago.
Max Holliday was a parts trainee at the Geraldton dealership and is now customer sales representative selling small mowers and small tractors, alongside usual parts duties.
Ellie Vance was also a parts trainee in that first cohort and progressed from parts sales representative at Wongan Hills to customer sales representative in Perth and has since been promoted in sales to selling hay equipment and tractors up to 180 horsepower.
Ms Vance was named AFGRI's small ag salesperson of the year.
Currently, AFGRI has vacancies for parts sales traineeships at its Perth, Mukinbudin, Northam and Narembeen dealerships.
But the real point of difference that will set AFGRI apart from other dealership groups and their training regimes, is it hopes to introduce at the start of next year a three-year certificate training course aimed at turning regional school leavers into qualified agricultural machinery sales representatives.
AFGRI is hoping the course will attract an inaugural cohort of 10 trainees.
It has signed one starter, is interviewing others and would like to hear from more school leavers interested in the course.
Central Regional TAFE and AFGRI representatives are due to meet next week to discuss the new machinery sales representative course and the parts sales and technicians courses for next year.
As AFGRI group service manager Charles Van Loggerenberg pointed out last week, the machinery sales course can only go ahead if there are sufficient applicants to provide a minimum number to make it viable.
The proposed machinery sales course comprises two parts.
For the first year, trainees will study a Certificate II in Auto Servicing (AUR20520) that primarily relates to servicing and repair.
In years two and three, they will study a Certificate III in Automotive Sales (AUR31020) which involves more emphasis on clerical, administration and operational tasks.
There are 13 core units and seven electives.
As for the existing technician and parts sales courses, AFGRI is seeking school leavers for the machinery sales representative course.
"For all our courses, we are seeking applicants who preferably have passed year 12," Mr Van Loggerenberg said.
"We want to bring them into our organisation, train them so we know them and their work," he said.
"The advantage for us in taking on regional apprentices and trainees is they are already part of the community there, they already know the local people.
"Their family support, their circle of friends are maintained, everything is familiar."
AFGRI asks applicants for any of its courses to nominate which two of its dealerships they would prefer to work at.
When they are not attending course work at Central Regional TAFE, they will be working and learning at the dealership where they are based.
AFGRI has found retention rates are generally better when regional people are employed in a familiar environment, rather than uprooted and transplanted through necessity, rather than choice, to new locations.
The advantage for apprentices and trainees joining a large company such as AFGRI is they can build a career path as "positions come up", Mr Van Loggerenberg pointed out.
"Apart from moving from one dealership to another, there is also an opportunity to progress to other positions within the organisation," he said.
Mr Van Loggerenberg said, like the other AFGRI courses, the machinery sales course would involve a "generic base" where general principles and processes taught can apply to any machinery sales position.
It will also include modules specifically relating to John Deere products and, like the other AFGRI courses, some of the specific elements will be studied online with the John Deere University.
While the course will ultimately equip successful applicants to sell John Deere and the other brand-name equipment in AFGRI's stable, it will teach trainees about farming and farm equipment before anything else.
"Basically, for the first three years they will not be expected to sell anything, they are there to learn," Mr Van Loggerenberg said of successful machinery sales applicants.
"They will spend a lot of the time with machinery - they will go and sit in the cab with farmers for four weeks or six weeks seeding or harvesting.
"They will spend time in the parts department, they will spend time in the workshop - they will basically be an assistant to a technician so they learn about the product.
"Ultimately, at the end of the training, we want somebody who knows the product and speaks the (farmers') language.
"Sales representatives need to have product knowledge so they can advise farmers, he or she can say 'this is the right machine for your operation and this is how we optimise it'.
"These days, sales teams are required to understand and be able to explain to potential customers how a range of John Deere technology works and what benefits it can provide for them in their farming operation."
Mr Van Loggerenberg said finding the right machinery sale representatives for AFGRI's dealerships was particularly important for building ongoing relationships with local farmers.
"Because the salesperson is probably the person at their local dealership that the customer is most likely to know, they become the first point of contact for the customer, whether it's for parts or service or whatever," he said.
Sales traineeships are available at numerous AFGRI branches across WA.
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