'Unprecedented' demand for agriculture workers, with six job vacancies per graduate – ABC News

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'Unprecedented' demand for agriculture workers, with six job vacancies per graduate
There are six jobs to every agriculture graduate in 2022. But this is not a new figure, with graduate numbers consistent over the past four to five years.   
So why is an industry with excellent job prospects struggling to attract workers?
A report produced by the Australian Farm Institute titled "The employer of choice or a sector without workforce?" found the number of students graduating from agricultural courses at university was well short of what was required to address labour shortages in the sector.
Jim Pratley, first author of the report and a Professor of Agriculture at Charles Sturt University and the Secretary of the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture, said the findings of the report indicated a disparity between jobs available and the number of graduates.   
"Based on the job market of 2021, we have found there are six jobs per graduate," he said. 
Professor Pratley said the industry has failed to promote what a career in agriculture really means.
"I think we need to get back into the year twelves at school and the teachers to let them know that this is a really strong market with very good employment prospects, both on farm and off farm," he said.
Professor Pratley said competition for workers across sectors such as mining and health was at an all-time high and agriculture needed to step up.
"Agriculture can't just sit back and expect it to be sorted. All employers need to get really involved in investing in students to come into our industry," he said.
Gemma Burger is the GradLink coordinator for agribusiness recruitment company Rimfire Resources.
Ms Burger said the agriculture industry was struggling to fill employment gaps.
"I would certainly say we have a shortage," she said.
"There are definitely plenty more roles available than there are graduates and competition to attract new graduates is fierce."
Ms Burger said that was good news for recent graduates as there was exceptionally high demand for them across all sectors of the industry.
"It's significantly higher than levels that we've seen in the past, through all sectors and across all levels of experience, but particularly in that graduate sector.
"I would go as far to say it's unprecedented."
The demand is so high that Rimfire Resources Rural Job Index counted 1,000 permanent job advertisements across the rural employment sector for the month of August, a record high according to Ms Burger.
Ms Burger said the silver lining of the labour shortage was that it had opened new doors for graduates.
"There's such a shortage of people in agriculture in general, so companies that wouldn't have previously considered taking a graduate on are now doing so because they need to build their own talent pipelines," she said.
Recently, the University of Southern Queensland hosted mid-year graduations in Toowoomba.
Emma Shields graduated mid-year with a Bachelor of Science in plant agricultural science and biology.
Ms Shields said it was not an industry she was familiar with.
"I grew up on the Sunshine Coast, right next to the beach and not a lot of people know anything about agriculture out there.
"My friends were confused about why I wanted to study agriculture but when I actually got into it, they were like, 'oh, this actually isn't as silly as it sounds'."
Ms Shields is now working as a parent seed technician for a Toowoomba-based seed company and said she hoped more young people entered the industry.
"The community of people that are in agriculture are always incredibly willing to help and they don't care if you don't know anything," she said.
"They're willing to teach you whatever you want to know." 
Douglas Randle graduated alongside Ms Shields from a Bachelor of Agricultural Engineering course.
Seeking job security, he felt agriculture was the perfect fit.
"I thought in the future, food security was going to be such a big issue, so then job security also when then went hand-in-hand," he said.
Mr Randle is not from a farming background and said his path to finding a job in the industry was much easier than he had anticipated.
"My wife saw an article on Facebook and so I put in a quick little email, asking if they had any place for a student work placement," Mr Randle said.
"They basically said they weren't interested in that, but they would like someone full-time." 
He is now working for an environmental and agricultural consultancy firm and said his time in agriculture has been "fabulous".
Grace Griffiths graduated with a Bachelor of Science majoring in biology and plant and agricultural science.
She has since obtained work as a graduate agronomist in Goondiwindi.
Having grown up on a cotton farm, Ms Griffiths knew of the challenges but also the opportunities a career in agriculture could offer.
But after a stint in Sydney, she realised not everyone held the same views.
"A lot of people asked me, so if you are studying ag are you going to be a farmer?
"That really triggered an interest in me because these people would just never have been exposed to the careers that are out there," Ms Griffiths said.
To help bridge the gap between urban and rural Australia, she embarked on a passion project.
"I started a [Facebook] page called 101 Ag Pathways.
"I can showcase all of the different careers in agriculture and what has led people to their roles in the industry.
Ms Griffiths said she also hoped more young people considered the agriculture industry as an option for employment.
"I think we are really lucky in ag because there are not many degrees where you can come away with such a broad spectrum of jobs," she said.
"You're automatically walking out with hundreds of opportunities in loads of different roles wherever your passions may lie and I think that's something that's really cool."
We acknowledge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Australians and Traditional Custodians of the lands where we live, learn, and work.
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