Agriculture’s typically blokey profile is stifling the flow of skilled labour to the sector, according to a report released by global consultancy Deloitte.
The report outlined a number of strategies to improve the industry’s ability to attract workers, calling for a more diverse and inclusive culture.
“This branding of the industry does not reflect or promote the innovative, diverse, forward-thinking and positive lifestyle factors that a career in farming offers,” the report stated.
“In fact, it undervalues agriculture’s contribution to the Australian economy and dampens the attractiveness and enticement of skilled workers into the sector.”
With men accounting for 70% of the agricultural workforce the industry does have a way to go before reaching a more balanced gender profile. But with an already stretched talent pool and an ageing workforce, attracting women to the industry is a critical strategy to ensure agriculture remains productive and competitive.
Dr Lucie Newsome, a lecturer at the University of New England, argues that women bring skills into agricultural businesses that complement the strengths of men.
“Despite these constraints, female farmers have been found to be key decision-makers, financial controllers and to use technology to a greater degree than men,” she said.
Dr Newsome, who grew up on a grazing farm near Glenn Innes, said that in some circumstances public policy was lagging behind the realities of agriculture’s workforce.
“Until recently the NSW Department of Primary Industries ran two drought resilience programs. One for “farming men” called Tune up for Fellas (TUFF) and one for “rural women” called Shaping Our Future Together (SOFT).”
“Other government programs see farm women as an economic resource to be harnessed to strengthen the agriculture industry and rural communities.”
Ducks on the Pond are Here to Stay
For shearing contractors Niall McFarlane, the recent hiring of two female shearers has been a welcome addition to his team.
Erin Twigg and Jasmine Morris, both in their early twenties, have recently started shearing with Mr McFarlane across northern Victoria.
“Up here it’s very tough shearing, and most blokes don’t want to do it. It’s very hard to get shearers here.”
“These two girls have such a will to work and they want to do it, and they’re passionate – if you want to be good at something you need to be passionate,” he added.
“It’s an absolute pleasure to have them in the team. They don’t cause any trouble. They work hard. And you know I couldn’t be happier.”
21-year-old Erin Twigg has put her professional career on hold while she explores shearing. Having graduated with a health science degree, she had originally considered shearing to be a summer job before finding a graduate role.
After just a few short months, Ms Twigg is shearing close to 100 sheep a day at a rate of $4 per head.
“I probably would have only been on maybe 20-something dollars an hour if I’d stuck with a career I was looking to do after uni, so it’s way more enticing – so I think I might stick it out for a bit longer,” she said.
“But I haven’t left the shed since. You get to sit down at the end of the day and have a laugh, a beer and just enjoy it.”