Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers industry services and agriculture workforce Officer Kylie Jackson.
Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers industry services and agriculture workforce Officer Kylie Jackson.

FAIR GO: Call for flexible job programs to grow ag industry

WHILE there are plenty of employment programs and subsidies on offer, the nature of agricultural industry typically means they miss out.

Which is why Bundaberg Fruit and Vegetable Growers's Kylie Jackson is hoping to see current programs made flexible and tailored rather than starting from scratch.

Since the Jobs and Skills Roadshow hosted by Employment, Small Business and Training Minister Shannon Fentiman, Ms Jackson said she's initiated conversations aimed at improving training and employment opportunities in the agricultural industry.

Highlighting programs like Skilling Queenslanders for Work, Back to Work, Ms Jackson said inflexible guidelines often ruled out agricultural businesses.

She said it was the employment nature of the industry, typically a casual basis, which contributed to the issue.

"We've been identifying it for a number of years and we always take an opportunity to try and raise that issue," she said.

"We have a lot of programs that support youth, we've got a lot of programs that support mature age workers and all of that sort of stuff, but agriculture can't really tap into those because of the way that they employ.

"Traditionally they will employ on casual basis unless you come in at perhaps a medium or higher skill level - mid-level management, supervisors, and upper management."

She said while administration and quality assurance roles would be employed on a full-time basis, the likes of harvesting, picking and packing, irrigation, forklift operators are often casual.

Ms Jackson said while Bundaberg harvests year-round, individual growers tend to only have windows of workforce opportunity.

"The lychee industry for instance, they have a very, very small window of maximum 8-10 weeks," she said.

"Depending on the size of the business, their window can be as small as four weeks.

"Then we've got business that can be anywhere up to eight months, but then there's that four month period where they don't need that additional workforce, so they employ them casually …"

Part-time positions and flexible working arrangements aren't unheard of in the industry, but majority of the work is casual.

"Because the businesses themselves don't have confidence that they can employ somebody on a full-time basis when they've got weather as a factor, price at the market as a factor, the growing conditions - there's so many factors, that are involved in getting anything to harvest," she said,

"They just don't have that guarantee, even for themselves."

Ms Jackson said as part of the Queensland Agricultural Workforce Network, working with employers about employment options to help them with their business and identify people searching for jobs, not just people on Job Seeker.

She said moving forward they want to see programs tailored on a case-by-case basis.

"We don't want a whole new program, we don't want different trials coming out, we just want to tap into what's existing instead of reinventing the wheel," she said.

"For instance with Skilling Queenslanders for Work, I would love to be able to put people through Skilling Queenslanders for Work traineeships with a Certificate II in Agriculture or Rural Operations."

However, she said that program requires the traineeship to be hosted on a not-for-profit business - there are only two farms in Bundaberg with there own stipulations.

While the government's push to create full-time positions is understandable, Ms Jackson said full-time jobs do offer security, they are not as secure now as they were 30 years ago.

"We... continually learn, continually look for different things to provide satisfaction in our lives," she said.

"So they are transitioning from one sector to another and not staying in one industry until they retire."

While trying to making waves with state-based programs, Ms Jackson has been implementing new programs locally to boost the industry.

She said the two programs, School Holiday Job Program and AgProspects, were an exciting step.

The School Holiday Job Program offers students at Bundaberg Christian College a minimum of one week of paid work, in various facets of the industry.

She said the program targeted Year 9 and 10 students, and aimed to guide them into agricultural studies and provide them with hands-on practical opportunities to help them decide what area of agriculture they want to work in.

Ms Jackson said they placed three students in the program's initial run with one student undergoing work with sugar services and will be placed with a cane farm and a horticultural farm to give him a feel for the various opportunities within the industry.

Ms Jackson said she hopes to see this program undertaken at other schools and farms in the region.

As the holiday job program focuses on the region's youth, AgProspects is an eight week pre-employment program with accredited and non accredited training workshops, and two weeks of work experience.

For more information contact BFVG on 4153 3007.



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