Tony Mahar says finding hooks, promoting the diversity of careers, creating pathways and connecting people through networks are potential keys to unlocking the future of the agricultural workforce.

“I see an opportunity to create a greater understanding of the breadth of traditional jobs that can be tailored for the agricultural space. Things like nutrition, finance, international trade, code writers, data technology – all of these have opportunities in agriculture. So we’ve got to make sure that when people are coming through school they see the jobs that are on offer and say ‘Oh gee I would like to do that,’ or ‘I’m interested in technology and I can apply it to agriculture’. Once we get people into the industry, connecting them with others, building their networks and showing them the pathways are important steps in retaining them.”

As CEO of the National Farmers Federation Tony Mahar is on the frontline when it comes to advocating for constructive policy around agricultural careers and with the recent release of the National Agriculture Workforce Strategy it is a fitting time to invite him to contribute to our Crafting Careers in Agriculture series.

Tony Mahar CEO of National Farmers Federation

“Agriculture has evolved and our job roles are changing continually. These days you don’t have to be toiling in a paddock to work in agriculture, and as an industry we’ve got to get better at promoting those different careers,” Tony says, although he admits there is no silver bullet solution and it will be a big task involving schools, industry employers, government and stakeholders.

One of the National Agriculture Workforce Strategy recommendations was the introduction of an apprenticeship-type scheme for farm workers. Tony supports this:

“Vocational education, apprenticeships and traineeships have to be an entry point that we really focus on. There are a whole range of opportunities but we’ve got to have it structured around the skills and qualifications that agriculture needs and those needs may include science, economics and environmental aspects.”

Seeing agriculture with a defined career pathway is another challenge Tony sees facing the sector, something that will come with a greater understanding of the breadth of traditional jobs that can be tailored for the agricultural space.

“Things like nutrition, finance, international trade, code writers, data technology – all of these have opportunities in agriculture. So we’ve got to make sure that when people are coming through school they see the jobs that are on offer and say ‘Oh gee I would like to do that,’ or ‘I’m interested in technology and I can apply it to agriculture’. Once we get people into the industry, connecting them with others, building their networks and showing them the pathways are important steps in retaining them.”

Starting with students in primary school and connecting to not only their concerns but the concerns of their parents and family is a critical step to promoting agriculture, particularly in a time when the broader community is taking more interest in where their food and fibre comes from.

Yet sometimes the hook can be sitting in plain sight:

“I was lucky enough to be in a header in Moree a couple of weeks ago, and this is cutting edge technology. It was like being in a flight simulator. You’re controlling this million dollar machine with a joystick and screens and you could be playing in an actual video game. I couldn’t see a kid not getting excited and that makes this a very relatable bit of technology.”

Finding hooks, promoting the diversity of careers, creating pathways and connecting people through networks are potential keys to unlocking the future of the agricultural workforce.

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