There has been a lot of concern expressed in recent times about the shortages of workers to fill the growing number of jobs across rural industries.
Many industries face challenges as we emerge from drought and enjoy a good season and good harvests for the first time in years.
Shortages are being experienced in a wide range of sectors and regions.
Two reports have been released recently regarding seasonal worker demand in agriculture - one by the ABARES and the other by Ernst and Young (horticulture).
Both these reports confirm the magnitude of the challenges facing the rural sectors in the short to medium term, especially for short term seasonal workers; and the need to put in place strategies to attract, train and retain workers in rural and regional areas.
To help address this challenge, NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has been highly active, working to mobilise the workforce and facilitating the movement of agricultural workers locally, within and between states, and internationally.
DPI has been providing timely advice and information to industry through its COVID concierge service and website, and the Help Harvest NSW platform.
Key areas remain production horticulture (particularly harvest operations), grain harvest roles, meat processing and shearing.
As a result of COVID19 restrictions, Working Holiday Makers are down by more than 50 per cent and NSW attracts only 13% of participants in the seasonal worker program from the Pacific island nations.
As principal of Tocal College, I have been participating as an active member of the Agriculture Senior Officials' Committee (AGSOC) Labour Working Group and the NSW DPI COVID-19 Operations group.
These groups help identify emerging issues for specific industry sectors, and to develop a coordinated response.
Some of the challenges engaging semi-skilled and skilled workers are likely to remain with us as the numbers of international workers will most likely be significantly reduced in 2021 and even into 2022.
As a first step in responding to the current shortage of workers for the grain harvest, Tocal College has piloted a successful grain harvest operations course which was delivered in collaboration with Chesterfield Australia in Dubbo.
The course aims to recruit people from outside agriculture with no previous experience in machinery operation or farming.
This course was a success and Tocal College is now planning to make it available across NSW.
The course focuses on equipping new industry entrants the basic skills and knowledge they need to take a job in the grain harvest and be safe and productive.
Students were given an overview of all the main machinery involve in harvest and the process of moving grain from the field to storage with a strong emphasis safety.
This pilot course was a great success and Tocal College is now planning to make this available across NSW under the AgSkilled 2.0 training program.
The next focus will be in February 2021 to attract and train new entrants for the summer grain crop and cotton harvests, and the following winter crop seeding season.
The course will be delivered in regional centres across NSW to make this training available to young people finishing their schooling and to workers who may have been displaced from other sectors, or those seeking a career change.
This is just one of many courses offered by Tocal College for those wanting to get a start in agriculture.