With labour shortages affecting every agricultural industry, farmers often talk about how hard it is to find workers.

Key points:

  • Dairy farmers are struggling to attract skilled workers amongst an ageing workforce
  • A school-based traineeship is offering young women a chance to experience farm work
  • Some students say the farm work helps keep them interested in school

One possible solution is improving the connections between students finishing school and local farms.

Candelo dairy farmer Greg Heffernan said it was a real challenge finding workers.

“It’s hard to get young people in the industry at the minute,” he said.

One day a week on the farm

The South Coast Women In Agriculture (SCWIA) School-Based Trainee program, underway in the Bega Valley, may just provide the link needed.

The first intake of students will be rotated through a range of industries including dairy farms, free range egg producers, a hops farm and oyster farmers.

As part of the program, the students spend one day a week working on a farm, as well as taking part in a TAFE program focused on skill development and safety training.

Mr Hefferon said the program would help make the students more employable.

In the 2020 National Dairy Farmer Survey, 47 per cent of dairy farms said they undertook recruitment activities, but 70 per cent of those experienced difficulty satisfying their employment needs.

A recent NSW Upper House inquiry into the NSW dairy industry looked into the labour shortage and suggested additional funding for dairy specific traineeships, subsidised university degrees and TAFE programs.

A young woman pictured on a farm with a cow

Darby Hayes never thought she would find herself working on a dairy farm.

A strong work ethic

Darby Hayes, a Year 11 student at Bega High School, said while she had some experience helping out her family on a sheep property she was apprehensive about working on a dairy farm.

“Dealing with cows is definitely a new thing for me,” she said.

“But you get used to them, these cows are calm and are so used to being around people.”

Mr Heffernan said he had been impressed with Darby’s work ethic.

“Darby’s been really good. She’s hands-on, she asked questions,” he said.

“You pick up a shovel, she’ll pick up a shovel next to you, and that’s what you want to see in young workers these days.”

Darby, 16, said the one day a week on the farm was also helping her school work.

“I would have dropped out and got an apprenticeship.

“But doing this gives me a reason to go to school.

“It just gives me that extra push because then I know I’ve got work to catch up on the next day, so it’s just kind of driving me to do more in school.”

As for the future, Darby is still considering whether she might one day pursue a career in agriculture.

“I think it is something I’d like to do, it may not be the first thing I go to, but it’s definitely something I can see myself doing later on in life.”

The farm experience that’s keeping students in school
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