April 18, 2013

Giving young farmers the skills for success

Skills shortages and an ageing population are affecting rural communities across Australia, highlighting the need to attract more young people to agribusiness. So what traits must young people have to carve a successful career in farming or agricultural services?

Skills shortages and an ageing population are affecting rural communities acrossAustralia. The facts reveal the average age of Australian farmers has increased to 52 (12 years above the national average for other occupations), with 18,000 people leaving the sector last year, according to the National Farmers’ Federation.

Also highlighting the need to attract more young people to agribusiness, and nurture those within it, is the number of young people in the industry, compared with the demand. There are just 800 graduates annually in agricultural-related disciplines, but 2,500 job opportunities available in the sector, says Sam Inglis,MarcusOldhamCollege’s Corporate Training Director.

Changing landscape

Young people keen on a farming career – or agricultural services career – need to think more like a business manager and learn skills that will help them to lead and adapt.

Ready-to-go skills, such as community leadership, adaptability, team building and media training, are vital as the apprenticeship pathway through the jackaroo system is a thing of the past, says Inglis. “Also, the definition of a farmer and the land ownership model are changing,” he says.

Entry to agricultural production for young people has been difficult under the old model of property ownership – young people are less motivated by property ownership as an entry point – but new models of share farming and leasing are being developed.

“Business management skills, as well as practical skills, will be the key to profitability for the next generation of farmers,” says Inglis, “and young people with both tertiary qualifications and industry understanding are now in high demand.

“Corporate farming may also offer career pathways for development of management and practical skills, and this is already being seen in the demand for qualified managers in corporate farming and agribusiness operations.”

Stemming the farming exodus

The NAB-sponsored Marcus Oldham Rural Leadership Program is providing opportunities for young skilled agribusiness workers to brush up on ready-to-go skills. About 30 up-and-coming agricultural leaders from aroundAustraliaparticipate in the program annually (it has about 700 alumni). Part of a new breed, these participants are helping to bridge a widening generational gap.

The program also helps promote agribusiness to young people to try to better meet the demand for new workers – a major issue made even more pertinent because job options in the resources industry have taken focus off agricultural offers.

“Wages in rural sectors have been seen as low in comparison to other careers, but these often don’t reflect salary packages offered that can add as much as another third to base wages, so the picture about low earnings in agriculture is often misleading,” he points out.

Benefits of technology

The development and expansion of technology will attract young people to agriculture and help rural communities develop, predicts Inglis.

It’s already happening. Case in point is Susie Tegan, the 2009 SA Rural Woman of the Year who made the comment “you don’t have to be in the CBD to run a major business” and demonstrated how she and a rural community developed a major commodity marketing business in ruralSouth Australia.

“After hearing Tegan, one of the program participants shifted her successful urban marketing business to Wycheproof in north-westernVictoriaand gained not only lifestyle benefit but also community benefit from the move,” says Inglis.

A Federal Senate enquiry and a Victorian State inquiry are also currently looking at ways that young people can be attracted and retained in the agricultural sector.

Applications for the 21st Marcus Oldham College Leadership Program are now open.

Commencing on 23 June 2013, the program is an intensive five-day workshop conducted at the Geelong campus.

Applications close on Friday 24 May 2013.

Find out more about the Marcus Oldham College Leadership program.

This article was first published in November 2012 and has been updated.