Ag skills focus

Ag skills focus

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THE struggle to find well-trained employees is becoming a growing concern for many Queensland producers and businesses.

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THE struggle to find well-trained employees is becoming a growing concern for many Queensland producers and businesses.

National Farmers Federation president Jock Laurie says there is no doubt agriculture presents a viable career but more needs to be done to inform the wider public.

He said the agricultural industry employs 307,000 Australians directly or 1.6 million people and 15 percent of the national workforce, when you consider the wider food supply chain.

Council of the Deans of Agriculture Professor Ian Pratley's statistics show that the job market offers about 4000 jobs a year, yet Australia is producing under 700 graduates (a six to one ratio).

Farmers tell a similar story.

Ken Obst, who operates a mixed grain and grazing operation, at Glenmore Downs, Clermont, says the limitless wages mining companies offer was part of the problem in finding an employee. "I believe the mines and associated industries have taken a lot of people away from agriculture," he said.

Although Mr Obst has used backpackers in the past, he is after somebody with more experience. "We're looking for somebody that has had experience with large machinery, is familiar with zero till practices, and has some cattle skills as well," he said.

"Over the years we have gone to bigger and bigger machinery and with the coming in of self-steer GPS it has meant we have less of a work pool to pick from."

Broadacre farmer Ian Buss, Spring- sure, has also struggled to find long-term workers, going through five employees in the past four years.

"Everyone wants to go and work in the mines," Mr Buss said.

"A chap who used to work for me said: 'There's only two types of people those who work in the mines and those who want to work in the mines' and he did go on to work in the mines.

"We're not looking for a degree. We just want someone who can operate tractors and spray rigs; a roadtrain licence would be good but not essential."

Mr Buss said it was frustrating to train workers, only to have them leave.

"That is a problem with backpackers especially you spend six months training them and then they leave," he said.

Mr Laurie said although farm wages may not be able to compete with mining it is very important to keep in mind that while high salaries might attract workers, they do not always retain them.

"The employee turnover rate in mining is much higher than in farming, with attrition rates in mining around one in three workers per year," he said.

Agriculture Minister John McVeigh says the government is developing a 30-year agriculture strategy, which will be launched in April.

"Our draft agriculture strategy focuses on identifying actions to address challenges to growth, and how we can support industry to grow to its full potential," he said.

"Plans for improving agriculture skills and career pathways include the development of a Horticulture Work- force Plan for the next three years, and the establishment of the new Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry Skills Industry Advisory Group.

"The Department also has a new 'skills' team specifically to work with priority sectors to help build the industry's capacity to overcome skills shortages and address labour supply issues."

Mr McVeigh said in order to double the value of food and fibre production by 2040, a skilled agricultural workforce is necessary.

AgForce general president Ian Burnett says AgForce is actively promoting careers in the agricultural industry through the School to Industry Partnership program which goes directly to schools.

"We need to communicate to students the opportunities available within the rural sector," Mr Burnett said.

The program also hosts the highly successful Moo Baa Munch event at Corinda State High School which brings industry spokespeople as well as practical elements of agriculture to a city setting.

In its inaugural year in 2012 the event attracted more than 800 students as well as their families.

Another program aimed at high school students is The Agricultural Skills and Technology Experience (TASTE) program held in the July and September school holidays run by the Emerald and Longreach colleges.

Longreach farmer Rob Pearce is more concerned with the lack of incentives for farmers to train their employees.

"We've lived here for six years and we're starting to find it difficult to get a full-time employee," Mr Pearce said.

"There just isn't enough motivation for farmers to spend time training employees."

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