Out of a range of fascinating topics at the Nuffield Australia national conference, discussions about the labour market within agriculture was a recurring theme.
It became increasingly clear throughout the presentations that with labour shortages, a new workforce within agriculture was one that would involve casual, short-term work and staff coming in without skills or experience.
Kathryn Fleay, 2021 scholar from York, presented on how the agricultural industry can attract and support people from non-agricultural backgrounds.
Ms Fleay is the agronomy and operations manager at Living Farm and is actively involved in the recruitment, training and development of new graduates joining the company.
She said in 2021, there was a demand for 4100 graduates needed to fill agriculture and agribusiness roles in Australia, and yet there were only 900 graduates that year.
It's believed for every six job vacancies, there was only one graduate to fill them.
"These figures have remained at similar levels for the past decade," Ms Fleay said.
Working heavily within WA's grain industry fueled her passion for agricultural education.
She credits the farmers, industry leaders and researchers she's come across in her career as being a key motivator and inspiration.
Ms Fleay was chief executive officer at the Mingenew Irwin Group from 2017 to 2021.
During her presentation she said tourists would come up to the office to ask about wildflowers in the Mid West.
"In addition to becoming a wildflower expert, I found myself also sharing information about grain and agricultural production in the Mid West," Ms Fleay said.
"Conversations with people from a non-agricultural background showed me the disconnect between our urban neighbours and the farmers within our State.
"I'm passionate about encouraging and supporting people into the grains industry, but I believe we need to encourage diversity, new ideas and collaboration to make this happen."
Ms Fleay said education on agriculture needed to happen at all levels, from primary school through to tertiary education, and to those employed in other sectors.
Students studying a degree in agriculture have been described as being a "Swiss army student", due to their diverse knowledge, adaptability and how skills in agriculture are practical and transferable.
Over in the Netherlands, one university is on a 320 hectare farm and has seen more students join the program.
A focus on student housing and a complete immersion within the practicalities of agriculture, attracts people to the degree and see them the whole way through.
Each year, 10 students from a non-farming background live on and are responsible for the farm's dairy, poultry and cropping sides, with guidance from farm managers.
Ms Fleay said Australian tertiary institutions were lacking compared to other universities as work experience often wasn't incorporated into a student's degree.
She said work experience allowed students and future employees to see the opportunities in the workforce.
During her scholarship Ms Fleay spoke to university staff and farmers to find out how they were attracting new students and employees, particularly from a non-agricultural background, and they were asking her the same question.
"New generations require supportive environments," Ms Fleay said.
She said there was value in connecting the agricultural industry with other industries to create more visibility.
Ms Fleay concluded her presentation with recommendations of how everyone involved in agriculture could contribute to spreading the word.
"If you're a post-secondary education provider, encourage work placement and incorporate practical experiences," Ms Fleay said.
"If you're an agribusiness, encourage young people into your business, develop structured graduate programs and support people early in their careers.
"If you're a farmer, talk about what you do, share positive stories with friends and family."
Charles Downie, Glenelg Estate in Tasmania, asked similar questions, but from the perspective of the agricultural workforce during rapid technological development.
"We need to keep investing in technology to drive down cost production, improve efficiencies and improve yield," Mr Downie said.
"Often the more technology we have, the more complex our business becomes and the harder it is to find staff.
"We need people, no matter how good the technology gets, there's plenty of jobs onfarm that technology can't do."
The 2021 scholar's estate consists of 15,000 Merinos and 450 Angus cattle, a 400ha eucalyptus plantation, a 35ha vineyard and 1100ha of native forest.
He shared similar confronting statistics, stating in the past 20 years, there was a 60 per cent decline in workers aged 15-24 years.
"I suspect the problem is earlier than that, there's not as many kids growing up in rural communities," Mr Downie said.
Many of the staff members working at Glenelg Estate have no background in agriculture.
He noted the workforce has become more transient, with casual roles and people moving in and out of agriculture roles quickly.
"We have to get used to the fact that if someone comes in, maybe they're not going to stay for a long time," he said.
Over eight years, Glenelg Estate has had 90 staff members pass through and some of them didn't follow through with a career in agriculture.
"Through my Nuffield scholarship, I asked businesses that have increasingly applied technology 'have you found it more difficult to get staff?' and their answer is always 'it's hard to get skilled staff as opposed to staff generally'," he said.
In conversation with an employee from a software company, Mr Downie asked if there was a way technology could be developed to make it faster to learn.
He was introduced to the concept of the 'mental model' which is a representation in someone's mind of how they think something works.
"If we're going to train someone and bring them into our business with no experience in agriculture, then we need to understand our mental models and what the other person's might be,'' he said.
Mr Downie introduced another concept.
"Have you ever thought about what you do every day in your business?"What is a level one skill for you?" he asked.
"For someone who has never been on a farm before, a level one skill might be as simple as opening a gate."
Mr Downie said in his business, he asked himself what basic skills were essential for productivity and the number one skill was understanding the geography and layout of Glenelg Estate.
To properly teach people about agriculture, Mr Downie said understanding how people learn was imperative.
"Providing the material in the right format is absolutely critical," he said.
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