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Work placement program addresses skill shortages

By: Thanh Loan Nguyen
14 September, 2010

Feature of the week: Drastic actions are needed to address the growing number of labour shortages in Australia's agriculture sector, said a recent study conducted by The Australian Farm Institute.

The report found that unless action is taken on a number of fronts, the current labour shortage will continue to worsen, and labour costs will continue to increase.

Executive Director of the Institute, Mick Keogh says that certain key factors are contributing to this.

"Given the reliance that many agricultural businesses now have on technology and complex management systems, there is an obvious need for a better educated and trained workforce, which will also help the sector to maintain productivity growth in the future," Keogh said.

"The horticulture sector also has a growing need for seasonal workers during harvest periods, but available statistics do not identify this adequately. The research concludes that one way to start to solve seasonal worker shortfalls is to collect better data about the location and the extent of seasonal labour shortages. This would enable better-targeted responses to be developed in a timely manner," he said.

However, Co-founder of the 'Agricultural Industry Practicum Program', Dr Alison Southwell believes that things are looking better for Australia's economy in the job department. 

Southwell believes that new workplace programs, such as the 'Agricultural Industry Practicum Program', will be a step forward to solving the skilled shortage issue in the agricultural industry.

"This program is about increasing student knowledge of the careers that are available to them in the rural sector. The amount of support we have had for this new work placement program from rural business and industry has been overwhelming and encouraging for the future of our students," said Dr Southwell.

Under the 'Agricultural Industry Practicum Program', agricultural students will attend a 12 week internship placement program with Australia's industrial businesses and rural industries across Australia. Head of the School of Agricultural and Wine Sciences at Charles Sturt University, Associate Professor Kent, says the placement program is a great way of allowing students to get their foot in the door.

"Charles Sturt University is well-placed to run this program, as we are the largest provider of agricultural undergraduate education in Australia, accounting for more than 30 per cent of all student enrolments in agricultural science courses. 
"With the high level of industry involvement we have in the new course at Charles Sturt University, our graduates are in a great position to get the industry experience and networks they need for a fantastic start at whatever career they seek. It is more than just getting a foot in the door; it throws the door wide open," said Kent.

However, Keogh isn't convinced that any work placement programs will fix the growing number of skilled workers in the long run.

"It is very difficult for the sector to develop comprehensive programs to improve labour supply, when the available employment and training data is so poor," Keogh concluded.

Australia's unemployment rate is steady at 5.2 per cent.

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