#Strongwomen. "I write about the power of trying, because I want to be okay with failing. I write about generosity because I battle selfishness. I write about joy because I know sorrow. I write about faith because I almost lost mine, and I know what it is to be broken and in need of redemption. I write about gratitude because I am thankful – for all of it." Kristin Armstrong
Few areas are more critical to the security and well-being of young people than decent work. It impacts on every aspect of their lives: independence; mental health and well-being; and social interaction.
When I found myself managing a National Careers Institute grant to support young people from all backgrounds and experiences to thrive in a career in agriculture, the first thing I discovered was there was a great deal I did not know about this space and I was going to need a lot of support.
I am very grateful for that support and particularly grateful to the people who introduced me to the knowledge, expertise and support networks I now find myself surrounded by
“If you believe in your heart that you need to do something, and you know in your heart it’s right… and especially when you’re in a position to make the change, you can’t back away from it,” Alison Mirams
As reported in the Stock and Land “Dairy Australia has launched a national marketing campaign to attract new workers to the industry, after a survey found 25 per cent of farmers were unable to find labour or access workers with the required skills.
The survey found 22pc cent of farmers were unable to fill vacant positions, within three months, and 40pc had lost one, or more staff, in the 12 months prior to the survey.
The campaign, through television, radio, social and digital promotion beamed into dairy regions, kicked off on Saturday. See extract of article at the bottom of this post”
The conversations were interesting. Despite the keynote being a woman and the industry recognising attracting and retaining women could help address its workforce shortage ( 12.7% of construction industries people are women – same as 35 years ago) the sponsor representative used predominantly male language – “the guys in hi vis” the “blokes in the offices”
Stats like 1550 insolvencies and high rates of suicide (190 ppl) per annum are heartbreaking. Young construction workers are ten times more likely to die by suicide than die from a workplace accident on a construction site.
Alison is on a mission to change the Culture Standard and is the chief crusader for the industry to have a 5 day working week.- Project 5 – A weekend for every worker Her message is “People are our Greatest Resource”. When we look after the health and wellbeing of our people they will be more productive and she is working with the University of NSW to measure this. It hasn’t been easy with 75 rain days between Jan and July seeing a 54% productivity drop.
Getting back to the dairy industry and agriculture in general, my personal experience and 20 years of working with young people in the sector and in schools has shown me people want rewarding jobs where they feel the work they do makes a difference and they are valued for their contribution. In a world where young people’s career choices are more and more driven by their values I think Alison Mirams has got it right. We need to start with the elephant in the room – if you are going to employ people then firstly you need to be prepared to gain the 21st century skills that will earn your business top marks for “GREAT PLACE TO WORK”
We need to understand what drives people to make the career decisions they make.
Before we start spending mega bucks on marketing campaigns lets all ensure our industries are them image we want the world to see
We need to show we care.
In reality lets be honest the first stage ( not the last stage) would be upskilling employers ( see Dairy Australia stage process below )
It doesn’t matter what industry we are currently in there is a scarcity of labour in an overemployed market and I was heartened yesterday by the number of times the panel mentioned the power of collaboration
“If you believe in your heart that you need to do something, and you know in your heart it’s right… and especially when you’re in a position to make the change, you can’t back away from it,” Alison Mirams
DA regional services general manager Verity Ingham said the issue had been compounded by COVID-19 and the nationwide skills shortage, across a range of sectors beyond agriculture.
The campaign would promote the benefits of working in dairy farming and encourage Australians to explore a job in dairy.
Featuring dairy ambassador Jonathan Brown and seven dairy farmers, the campaign showcases why working in dairy matters, highlighting factors that have been shown to motivate people to consider a job in dairy.
“Competition for jobseekers in regional areas is fierce, so finding good, reliable people is a priority for dairy farmers,” Ms Ingham said.
“Keeping them is just as important.
“We need workers on our farms to keep the milk flowing, the cheese on tables, the yoghurt in our lunchboxes and we really are looking for people who want job security, who like working with and caring for animals; people who are looking for variety, flexibility in their work life or wanting career progression.”
Ms Ingham said coronavirus had an impact on both international and cross-border workers.
“Because there is such a range of jobs on dairy farms, closing international and state borders really stopped that flow of employees across the nation,” she said.
“Dairies are traditionally a place for that backpacker market and it burst quite quickly.”
DA looked to local markets but found many potential workers didn’t know what was required on farms.
Ms Ingham said the advertising campaign was the first step in a four-pronged approach to attracting, and retaining, workers.
“We’re going out into regional areas looking for non-traditional workers in the dairy industry, so not necessarily poaching from the beef or sheep farm, next door,” she said.
This would be followed by career education about dairy for school, university and TAFE students.
“The third and fourth parts are around supporting our farmers, connecting them with job agencies and places where there are job seekers,” she said.
“We’ll also be skilling the job agencies, so they know about dairy, and then connecting our farmers into those networks.”
The last stage would be skilling farmers in how to employ new staff
“It’s a little bit like becoming a cafe owner – you don’t necessarily start the cafe with looking for staff, you do it because you love coffee and cake,” Ms Ingham said.
“Farmers are often getting into farming, or even succession, because they love the outdoors, putting food on the table for the nation and animals – not necessarily to employ people.”.
DA was also setting up a pre-employment program, she said.
“We are working with those job agencies and networks, in terms of making sure that anybody who hasn’t been on a farm, or who has very little experience on farms, gets those really core skills,” she said.
“Once they land on dairy farms, they have got some of those basic skills, in terms of a skill set they need.”
The conversations around the table indicated we have a lot of work to do in agriculture on our CULTURE. What is exciting is these young people are investing their time as life long learners to help us get it right
My post yesterday came from a place of deep hurt. In fact my entire world is driven by my emotions.
When I came back to agriculture 20 years ago I knew there was a very good reason why I left in the first place. I didn’t want to milk cows but I did want to use my talents ( whatever they were ) to get the best outcomes for the industry my family loved so much.
To hone my talent I sought our John Hutchison and Deanne Kennedy at JayDee events who have been delivering Cows Create Careers for the dairy industry.
John and Deanne are magnificent humans and together with Cathy Phelps ( who at the time headed up the Natural Resources Management department at Dairy Australia) we created a farmer focused first iteration of Picasso Cows where young people in primary schools explored healthy landscapes, clean waterways and energy efficient dairies. I got it funded and piloted it for two years and then Dairy Australia wanted it.
The first Picasso Cows were traffic stoppers
I was aware the budget would be in Marketing and Communications (M&C) . The people who run schools’ engagement at Dairy Australia are nutritional experts. The Dairy Australia version of Picasso Cows would not be farmer focused and instead have a health and nutrition focus
All well and good, that is their area of expertise, but not my passion so I walked away. Handed over all the IP everything for no remuneration and knew that it was in good hands been looked after by John and Deanne.
Is Picasso Cows still being looked after by John and Deanne? No it isn’t. When will people in Marketing and Communications realise grass roots programs are successful because they are grass roots programs and the best people to deliver them are the grass roots ?
A couple of years ago Dairy Australia made the decision to no longer fund Cows Create Careers . It was so rewarding to see the farmers go into battle to have Dairy Australia reverse their decision. As I said John and Deanne are magnificent humans, they have a rapport with the demographic of farmers I don’t- the over 45’s
I also created a highly successful series called “Jhet and Emma – A Day in the Life of Two Young Girls working on a Dairy Farm ” series for the NSW DPI LandLearn program. The DPI insisted it be housed on their website. When they shut down LandLearn did they let me know the Jhet and Emma series would disappear into the ether? No they did not. Hours and hours and hours of pro bono time and a highly successful education series gone forever .
And this was just the beginning of the extractive world of agriculture I found myself in. After 20 years I feel like an abused housewife who knows deep down no matter how much people say they are going to change, the problem is too endemic, yet she keeps going back for more.
So I ask myself, why is the culture in agriculture like this and there is a good reason
Everyday WE ( Australians) wake up expecting food at rock bottom prices to be a birth rite. We are asking farmers to do what they do and we aren’t prepared to value it. The system proliferates this mindset. The supermarkets wake up everyday on a race to the bottom competing on price alone.
Food is 10% of income in this country. 70 years ago it was 50%. Our farmers getting up everyday to produce food at rock bottom prices gives us a disposable income to spend on other things.
Our farmers feel undervalued. The sector feels undervalued. Undervalued people tend to focus on problems and don’t have the energy to seek out solutions. They tend not to value people who do.
I am very excited that the charity I founded has received National Careers Institute funding to prototype and pilot a model for best practice workforce development.
I am putting a lot of pressure on me and the people I am surrounding myself with to ensure we deliver a successful model that is replicable and scalable by any industry.
Working in agriculture for the last 20 years I have seen so much money wasted.
I have also seen people and organisations delivering pockets of brilliance . How impressive is this People in Agriculture which is a partnership between a number of agricultural sectors leveraging the brilliance of the people at Dairy Australia who created People in Dairy
In the first instance – surely we could all work miracles if we bought the pockets of brilliance together so we could learn from each other because this is what people committed to best outcomes for the people they serve do.
Whilst I have seen some brilliance at Dairy Australia I have seen a lot of things that don’t make any sense to me at all. My area of expertise is designing and delivering programs that empower young people to take action on issues that matter to them.
I created Picasso Cows for Dairy Australia. That meant I have worked with their Marketing and Communications teams because that’s were the budget for school engagement sits.
Can agriculture fix its images and perceptions issues through marketing and communication?
I am 100% confident that it cant.
The only way we ( farmers and the businesses that support us) can attract and keep employees is by being the places that people are proud to work for.
This requires the capacity and capability to self reflect on our businesses. Simple things like how does my business present to the public. One example rubbish and piles of old machinery lying around are not a good look.
I spent 25 years working in the world of retail. We got taught this stuff. Who is helping people in agriculture self reflect.
When we get ourselves right THEN and only then can we let the people in marketing and communications do their thing with confidence
Organisations like Dairy Australia can lead by example and show us how its done.
Lets start by taking the pressure off the Marketing and Communications team – they cant fix things that are out of their control
I am enjoying the sessions and this resonated with me
Many people believe that it takes two to make a conflict, but you only need one car to have an accident! When you examine what brought you to this place, you’ll have better information to help you move through it. If you’re internally stuck, you can still go through both sides of the situation and look at the conflicting feelings, patterns, and facts that are leading to the stagnation you feel.
I shared that 2022 has been a rewarding year for me.
The highlight has been getting $ from the National Careers Institute to protype a workforce strategy that any sector can replicate and scale.
Receiving state Government and Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation funding for the Young Environmental Champions program
Our YFC being invited to speak at conferences across the world
I also shared my frustrations and hopes and dreams
Whilst I enjoy supporting young people (K-12, higher education and early career) to take action on issues that matter to them, the agriculture sector remains a sector I don’t understand and continues to frustrate me.
The agriculture invests in programs that aim to lift young people up whilst the wider culture in the sector rewards them for learning to fit in, for staying small, for not self-promoting. Cynthia Mahoney touched on it in a recent YFC workshop
The agriculture sector is desperately short of labour but has no workforce strategy
The agriculture sector has very black mark for modern slavery – yet appears to makes no real effort to address it
In 2022 will we have the courage to hold up a mirror to ourselves and ask the big question ?
I remember when I was returning to the farm and still doing a few shifts in pharmacy and I would meet new people and they asked me what was my day job I would alternate between saying I was a farmer and a pharmacist
I remember vividly the day some -one replied “That’s an esoteric career” when I said I was a farmer . ( BTW I had to look up the word esoteric later)
This inspired me to go on a journey and work with the Action4Agriculture Young Farming Champions to “normalise” careers in agriculture.
How are we doing that?
We start by telling people agriculture- farming, food and fibre is so much more than the farm
It starts before the farm with custodianship of the land and the sea.
It progresses to encompass the farm itself;
The stage between the farm gate and the point of sale, which includes value-adding; and shaping of, and by, buyers’ preferences.
Throughout the process, there is a significant supply chain component.
None of the players in any of these stages stands alone. They are all linked in a web of interdependencies, where harm to one weakens the whole (for example, poor labour hire practices injure the reputation of the whole sector); and, conversely, enhancement of one strengthens the whole (for example, a focus on continuous learning in one industry spills over into another).
Cooperation among the players in the various stages benefits the entire sector more than if one gains a temporary benefit by disadvantaging another.
Unlike the 20th century, the 21st century has seen a growing realisation in the various elements of the Australian agriculture (farming, food and fibre) sector that they all hang together, and that cooperation is more constructive than conflict.
I love the way the report talks about agriculture being so much more than the farm and to recognise this the committee chose to use the term “Agrifood”
It is a spectrum comprising a number of stages. Starting before the farm with custodianship of the land and the sea, it progresses to encompass the farm itself; the stage between the farm gate and the point of sale, which includes value-adding; and shaping of, and by, buyers’ preferences. Ultimately it is the end consumer’s preferences that dictate the workings of each stage. Throughout the process, there is a significant supply chain component.
It goes on to say
None of the players in any of these stages stands alone. They are all linked in a web of interdependencies, where harm to one weakens the whole (for example, poor labour hire practices injure the reputation of the whole sector); and, conversely, enhancement of one strengthens the whole (for example, a focus on continuous learning in one industry spills over into another). Cooperation among the players in the various stages benefits the entire sector more than if one gains a temporary benefit by disadvantaging another. Unlike the 20th century, the 21st century has seen a growing realisation in the various elements of the Australian AgriFood sector that they all hang together, and that cooperation is more constructive than conflict.
The committee noted with concern
the converging problems of agricultural workforce shortages, reduced employment opportunities for young people and poor perceptions of agricultural jobs and careers.
As we face increasingly complex major global and domestic challenges, Australia’s social and economic future is reliant on a fit-for-purpose education system and easy to navigate training pathways that equip young people with the skills they need to transition through school, to higher education and/or the workplace and thrive
The committee then made this beautiful statement
If the sector places capability development of its people at its core, if a general recognition prevails that this is a highly diverse sector encompassing a number of stages, if the ultimate arbiter is acknowledged to be the expectations of citizens and the tastes of consumers, if industry leaders rise to the challenge, and if they unite to plan actively to recruit and educate the new workforce, Australian AgriFood will not just survive in the 21st century. It will thrive.
I came to agriculture from a 25 year career in retail and I have always been frustrated by the lack of desire or lack of availability in the agriculture sector to upskill from a human capital perspective.
For example I spent 3 years at uni learning pharmacology – my degree did not prepare me for the world of retail but the University of New England and Financial Management Research Centre (FMRC) filled that gap 30 years ago. I don’t know of anything similar in agriculture except the Rabobank Business Management offering . I havent done the Rabobank course so I don’t know if it covers team management and motivations.
I was so impressed by the FMRC course I still have the manual 30 years later
Is agriculture having enough conversations with our team members? Are we doing regular surveys like this one from McKinsey? What do we know about our team members?
There is some very important work being done by Professor Peter McIlveen and Dr Nicole McDonald looking at the Vocational psychology of agriculture. (e.g., the skill, knowledge, openness to change, and motivation of farmers). Their research couldn’t come at a more important time
This research by McKinsey shows why we shouldn’t guess and why the research is so important.
One of the key elements of the Action4Youth model is the pastoral care package. If agriculture is going to Attract, Train and RETAIN people, they must feel physically, emotionally and identity safe in their workplaces
The graphics shown above have been created for a program aimed at attracting young people who are disengaged from school to the foundation careers on farm/in the oceans for the dairy, fishing and wool industries
It can be adapted, replicated and scaled (or shrunk) for all industries.
Interestingly enough that is where it is getting the most traction. There are no shortage of industries with dollars to invest in best practice workforce engagement strategies that don’t have what agriculture has.
The question is are we making the most of what we have?
One of the golden rules in the Young Farming Champions program is to avoid re-enforcing the negative and using deficit language ( which agriculture by the way has turned into an artform)
But if we are going to address the pain points in the Action4Agriculture Action4Youth – Explore, Connect and Support young people to thrive in careers in agriculture Attract-Train-Retain Workforce Strategy and Roadmap we must be prepared to put our dirty linen out for washing
And like all forward thinking sectors there are times when self-awareness and self-reflection are key to being the change required to be the image you want the world to see.
The graphics below are from the YouthInsight Study done in WA in2017
Action4Agriculture’s work in schools has shown it IS possible to change of teachers and students images and perceptions
Its possible to raise awareness of the diversity of careers
But we cant do it alone and Scott Graham and Barker College cant do it alone.
Creating resources and putting them on a website and hoping teachers see them is an equally ad hoc transaction that it not a best return on investment of expectations for anyone.
None of us can do it alone and we cant do it in silos.
How do we build a culture of co-operation in the agriculture sector because we are not alone in needing to attract the best and brightest
Job vacancies rose 18.5 per cent to hit a record of 396,100 in the three months to November 30 as employers embarked on a hiring spree at the end of the delta lockdowns in NSW, Victoria and the ACT, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported