ACCREDITING more trainers and holding more novice and improver shearer and wool handler schools will be the focus of Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) to combat the shearer shortage.
Craig French, AWI's program manager wool harvesting and development, this week said the number of novice and improver schools held in WA was expected to increase by 40 per cent over the next 12 months.
He said the schools, some fully funded by AWI and others funded in partnership with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) and the WA Shearing Industry Association (WASIA) and other groups, had already proved their worth in an effort to relieve the shearer shortage and put downward pressure on shearing costs for woolgrowers.
"Since July (last year) we've had 50 plus learner shearers (complete an AWI novice shearer and wool handler school) and be taken up by shearing contractors and given a learners stand," Mr French said.
"That's more than 50 young shearers entering the industry and getting a start since July, through the schools, that we might not otherwise have got without the schools."
Mr French said AWI would particularly focus on holding more improver schools to encourage learner shearers to progress by increasing their proficiency and shearing speed, which would make them more productive members of shearing teams.
Previous improver schools have been well supported by shearing contractors who sent learner shearers along last year, despite the heavy workload on shearing teams working six days a week.
AWI also planned to accredit more shearing and wool handling trainers, Mr French said.
He was in WA to attend the Williams Gateway Expo Sheep Show this month and said he planned to be back again next month to work on appointing more accredited AWI trainers.
Rylington Park, Boyup Brook, has run shearer and wool handler schools for 30 years and in the current and previous financial years AWI has fully-funded eight week-long schools there each year.
It has also run two schools a year at Esperance and partnered with DPIRD and WASIA to run a number of schools in farm shearing sheds at various locations across the Wheatbelt.
This year, in conjunction with DPIRD and WASIA, two schools have been held at Rural Export & Trading WA's Peel Feedlot, Mardella, which can provide sheep for shearing schools year round.
Mr French said a third school was planned to be held there, possibly between June and September.
Shearer and wool handler schools were also planned to be held at Muresk Institute, Northam, he said.
"We're also talking to the department of Foreign Affairs and Trade about bringing staff in to help relieve the pressure on the industry and we're hopeful the Pacific Australia Labour Mobility (PALM) scheme will assist with that," Mr French said.
The PALM scheme, which starts this month, consolidates the Seasonal Worker Program which provided six-nine month temporary visas for 'unskilled' mainly harvest workers and the Pacific Labour Scheme that provided one-two year visas for 'unskilled' and 'semi-skilled' rural and regional workers.
But Mr French acknowledged "ramping up" local shearer and wool handler training with more trainers and through more schools, particularly improver schools, was more likely to be a timely and effective longer-term solution to the shearer shortage in WA than continued reliance on imported labour.
"It's not just a problem here in WA, the lack of shearers and wool handlers is also a problem in Queensland and New South Wales," he pointed out.
Mr French agreed parity in award rates for shearers and greater travelling times to WA than to Eastern States meant WA was unlikely to see New Zealand shearers and wool handlers returning in their previous numbers in the short term.
Heading over to shear through the spring and then returning home for Christmas was once a lucrative trip for New Zealand shearers who made less money on award rates back home before parity.
Mr French also acknowledged the cost of shearing for woolgrowers had doubled, with some paying even more since the previous year because shearing contractors were passing on the cost of having to pay good reliable shearers above award rates to retain them.
But there was little that AWI could do in the short-term about that, other than what it was already doing in trying to overcome the shearer shortage, he said.
Mr French said AWI was planning to work with regional secondary schools to attract more school leavers straight into the industry by making them aware of what shearing offered in terms of a rewarding career.
He said the learner's tool kit incentive funded by AWI - learners who complete a shearer course, gain a learner's stand with a contractor and complete other requirements can receive a tool kit valued at more than $2000 which contains handpiece, combs, cutters, brushes and a pendulum to aid sharpening - would also continue for another 12 months.
But woolgrowers also needed to play their part in helping overcome the shearer shortage by ensuring their shed facilities were safe and adequate, he said.
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