THE CRISIS involving agriculture’s skills shortage was addressed in the Senate last week.
The Nationals Senator for Victoria Bridget McKenzie, along with other committee representation, released the report into Higher Education and Skills Training to Support Agriculture and Agribusiness in Australia.
The report included initiating an industry body to present to government a national strategy for addressing the skills shortage, industry productivity, and food security.
“There needs to be a greater focus around raising the profile of agriculture in schools, so it’s considered a possible career option when students decide what they might one day want to do,” Senator McKenzie said.
“The committee would also like to see adequate funding set aside for the agricultural and agribusiness sector, so there are more effective training outcomes for employers and employees.”
Ballarat Grammar agriculture teacher Matt Dickinson met with politicians earlier in the year to discuss the future of the industry.
“We discussed exactly what the issues are with the sector and no one came up with the idea that we need another body,” Mr Dickinson said.
“We need to make headway especially with city kids, changing the profile of the industry.
“Agriculture has such a poor image – a lot of them see agriculture as a farmer who has to get up early in the cold and stomp around in the mud.”
Mr Dickinson said it needed to be a priority for both state and national governments to fund agriculture andhorticulture programs.
“A lot of funding has just been taken away from agriculture, with the TAFE cuts,” he said.
“Whilst this report is positive, there has to be a more consistent effort for the government, as opposed to handing something out and then taking it away.”
Senator McKenzie reassured The Courier yesterday that the new industry body would not impact other groups.
“The new body will be absolutely focused on skills and productivity.
“It will include a range of different professions from within the agriculture industry, not just producers.”
The report states although there was widespread support for the creation of a new peak body, the committee heard several visions regarding its potential structure and membership.
It also states “it is necessary to articulate to prospective students the challenging and ever changing nature of agriculture if it is to be portrayed as an attractive career choice… this might be achieved through enhanced career advice material, industry outreach, or greater prominence in the curriculum”.
One of Mr Dickinson’s concerns involves the mining industry taking rural people away from farming.
“Look at the mining ads, we need something like that for agriculture.
“Agriculture needs to have a greater presence in the media, to help people’s understanding of the industry as well as attract people to it.”
Senator McKenzie said the inquiry heard agriculture is a thriving, multibillion-dollar industry filled with exciting career options, hightech research and world-class practice.
“But the sector is being challenged by a skills shortage, as evidenced by a range of stakeholders including students, education providers and industry representatives.