Ag jobs are there for the taking

COME ON OUT: GrainCorp grain handler Tammy Towns, Narrabri, says people should give working in regional NSW a go. Photo: Samantha Townsend

COME ON OUT: GrainCorp grain handler Tammy Towns, Narrabri, says people should give working in regional NSW a go. Photo: Samantha Townsend

Jobs, jobs, jobs - it's one of the major issues facing agriculture right now.

Talk to anyone in the woolsheds at Walcha to the cotton fields at Wee Waa and even around the dining table at Wellington and they will all share their experiences with their struggle to find workers.

Throughout the pandemic and even when Mother Nature was throwing her worst at producers, agriculture boomed across all commodities with high prices and cracking yields but the same can't be said about our workforce.

Type the word 'agriculture' into Seek and 5433 jobs come up from across Australia including dairy farm hands to government directors, agronomist, site managers and technicians.

So what's the problem?

While the people are there, recruiters say there is more competition for jobs and in many cases they now have to resort to head hunting.

At the same time international and domestic border restrictions set in place to manage COVID-19 sapped a lot of the seasonal labour force.

At GrainCorp they have more than 100 roles currently open, which corporate affairs manager Jess Simons expects will double in the coming months.

The roles range from site managers, assistant site managers, pest control, apprentices, customer experience, human resources, trading, finance, legal, planners, supervisors and 30 maintenance roles. Since January this year, they have filled 83 permanent roles, not including seasonal workers.

"Like most industries, we're experiencing challenges when it comes to hiring for trades and manufacturing skill sets," Ms Simons said.

"We're looking for all levels of skills and experience - people can either take the opportunity to start a career in agriculture if they have no experience, and take advantage of our training programs that will help them to become super effective in the role, or take a more experienced role and be part of an iconic Aussie agribusiness."

Ms Simons said with the Australian economy currently maintaining a 4.2 per cent unemployment rate, the lowest since 2008, and expected to dip below 4pc for the first time in a generation, had made be tough for all employers.

"It's a tight market and everyone is looking in the same pools for talent," she said.

"Like many companies, we've got a strong retention plan in place and we really emphasise the benefits of flexible working, travel, professional learning and development and short-term incentives . We also have a rewards package at work with product discounts on things like RM Williams which never hurts."

GrainCorp employee Jamie Mitchell started a traineeship 22 years ago and is now the company's Narrabri area manager.

His brothers Cameron and Scott followed in his footsteps and have careers with the company while his other sibling Andrew is also in the industry working as a farm manager.

"We have a great bunch of people we work with here and there is such great diversity in the roles," Mr Mitchell said.

"People think agriculture is just jumping on a tractor but there are so many roles out there you wouldn't even think of.

"Large companies like ours have diverse roles that are no different to the city roles but we get the lifestyle with it."

Further west at Narrabri Tammy Towns, who is a GrainCorp grain handler, said her message to people wanting to head to regional and rural NSW was just "give it a go".

"There are plenty of work opportunities out here with companies that offer great training and career paths," Ms Towns said.

NSW Famers vice president Xavier Martin said the last two years had "emptied out the supply line" of workers who were already under stress in regional NSW because of the prolonged years of drought.

"COVID-19 and the breaking of the drought has made it difficult to scale up your operation particularly when the casual workforce evacuated with seasonal workers with the border closures," Mr Martin said.

"Now what I'm hearing from farmers is that they are competing with the trade sector, mining and transport that are short of workforces as well. That's leaving farmers unable to compete at those often six figure salary levels."

Mr Martin said there was not one single answer but there needed to be multiple actions including government support with its various programs like the Pacific Workers Scheme.

He said there had also been significant enrolments in tertiary institutes where courses around Australia were brimming with students that were expected to graduate in the coming year.

"The supply chain of graduates are imminent, there will be skilled graduates available but it won't be tomorrow, it will be more like later this year," he said.

Brett Price from Agricultural Appointments echoed Mr Martin's sentiments saying there was a shortage in most sectors against a booming economy.

"As a recruiter we need to work hard to find people and be proactive in this space," Mr Price said.

"It's always a challenge to get good people to go to regional areas and with a shortage of skilled people we currently need to work harder to achieve outcomes.

"Once you would get candidates from advertising but now there is a greater emphasis on identifying appropriately skilled candidates and approaching them with opportunities."

Mr Price said the government needed to encourage people to get into agriculture and it all had to start with education.

"We need to start talking at schools and encouraging students into careers and show them what opportunities there were."

Meanwhile there are currently a number of government programs that focus on employment in agriculture including Pacific Australia Labour Mobility, in which there are now 3542 workers employed across NSW. Of those 1810 are working in the meat industry sector and 1732 in horticulture.

At Tocal College, the AgSkilled 2.0 training program that started in October 2020 has expanded from the original program to include not only the cropping sector, but also production horticulture and viticulture.

This program has delivered 214 courses for 1576 people at 111 locations across NSW with courses ranging from drones in agriculture, advanced spray application, introduction to agronomy, harvest operations, corporate governance and Generating Regional Outstanding Women (GROW).

Agriculture Minister Dugald Saunders said most people were not aware of the benefits and different career paths that existed in the agriculture industry.

"It's more than a job, it can offer a lifelong career with a real sense of reward, purpose, flexibility and balance," Mr Saunders said.

"Agriculture can also offer significant financial opportunities - many employees aim and succeed in buying their own farm or land, growing their operation to become successful business owners."

This story Bush is booming with jobs, but where are the workers? first appeared on Daily Liberal.