A career in agriculture has never been more exciting, as the NSW sector progresses its goal to deliver $30 billion in output by 2030.
Not only does agriculture offer a diverse range of traditional opportunities, new technologies and innovations mean that broad skill sets encompassing science, business and digital literacy are in strong demand.
Yet there remains a notable workforce gap in agriculture. This has been made glaringly clear over COVID-19, as the intermittent closure of state and international borders has meant fewer working holiday makers and guest workers are available to pick and pack summer harvests. The industry's over-reliance on transient workers has hit home, resulting in intensified calls for a sustainable solution to the problem.
Seasonal work is just one aspect of the agriculture workforce, but it mirrors labour challenges felt across the sector.
Reports suggest a dearth of applicants for many skilled jobs, especially in isolated areas and for specific skills such as shearing; the number of students enrolling in agriculture related degrees is getting gradually smaller; and there are increasing challenges for young farmers entering the sector.
Yet opportunities in agriculture abound.
Greater consumer interest in food provenance and quality, as well as animal welfare, means there's more space for skills in innovation and technology.
The challenge of feeding both a growing domestic population and the expanding global demand for Australian produce will in itself require a stronger and more diverse workforce.
Reduced fees for students enrolling in agriculture at university and the extension of the NSW vocational AgSkilled program are positive steps, but more needs to be done to promote opportunities - from entry level through to farm management.
Agriculture does its bit to support new entrants through scholarships and placements.
Annually, NSW Farmers offers five $4,000 tertiary scholarships to members, their partners or children studying an agriculture related qualification.
It's time for industry and government to work together to develop sustainable solutions to attract, retain and enhance essential human capital across the sector.
- By GARRY GRANT, NSW Farmers Rural Affairs Committee chairman.
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