People on the move

Too many schoolkids missing turn-off to ag as career choice

Emma Ayliffe, February 26, 2021

Emma Ayliffe (right) with Summit Ag director Heath McWhirter and consultants Ben, Chelsea and Sam. Photo: Summit Ag


AS AN agronomist, farmer, business owner and Young Farming Champion sharing my career journey in schools I know agriculture is providing me with an amazing career.

I work in agriculture. One day I might be out in the field advising a cotton grower about how to control whitefly, another day I will be managing my business, Summit Ag Agricultural Consulting, where we have six team members.

I’m also a farmer producing wool and first-cross lambs and growing wheat, oats, barley and canola. As a Young Farming Champion, I share my agricultural experiences with school kids in the city and the country.

I am continually discovering that many students are interested and passionate about agriculture, but they don’t know the breadth and depth of opportunities.

Yet we hear every day about on-farm staff shortages, and the consequences of this for increasing food prices. As people involved in agriculture, we need to become far more proactive and strategic in the way we promote agriculture as a career of first choice.

The statistics are in our favour. Research tells us there are six jobs for every graduate from an agriculture-related degree. For those not looking for an on-farm job, 82 per cent of those jobs are beyond the farm gate and 40pc are in cities. In the next 10 years there will be a 15pc growth in scientific, research and information technology jobs which support the production of food and fibre. There is also expected to be a 10pc increase in jobs behind the farm gate and a 9pc increase in jobs that provide agricultural education and training. Agriculture really has got it all.

Research also tells us that young people going from primary to secondary schools have closed their minds to 70pc of the careers that are available. We also know 46pc of Australians have at least one parent who wasn’t born here.

Hearts and minds

Reaching the hearts and minds of the next generation of agriculturists requires us to reach the hearts and minds of their parents.

This starts in our schools. Going into schools and speaking with students, as I do with my role as a Young Farming Champion, means the potential future workforce can see what a career in agriculture looks like. It gives them role models and expands their view of agriculture behind and beyond the farm gate.

But if we are going to have real impact promoting agriculture to the next generation, we must move beyond sharing statistics and become specific. We must be able to show future employees and their parents what and where the jobs are.

This means our industry bodies need to provide clarity about predicting and planning for our future workforce needs. If we are to evolve and keep pace with our changing world and respond quickly and positively to unexpected events, we must have strategies for recruiting, training and developing capability, and mobility. 

Students need to understand that a dairy-herd manager can earn $150,000 a year and work internationally. They need to know  that you don’t need the HSC or tertiary education qualifications to earn $2000 for a four-day week as a shearer. Students need to be aware of the career opportunities available – from  modifying cutting-edge technology to producing automated vehicles for the cropping industry to contributing to healthy oceans through working within aquaculture.

Then students can go home and influence the views of their parents and their communities – our consumers.

Showcase agriculture

We also need industry to step up and provide an attractive workplace for future employees; workplaces that embrace diversity and gender balance, workplaces that offer flexible ways of doing business, and workplaces that use high-end technology.

We need to showcase agriculture as providing food and fibre as well as delivering on strong consumer-driven ethics around issues such as climate change and sustainability.

To ensure agriculture attracts the best and brightest employees of the future we need to start now. We must identify skills gaps, conduct workplace forecasting, invest in our young leaders, promote positive stories, and listen to the consumer who is often the parent of tomorrow’s agriculturist.

I have an extraordinary career in agriculture. I want others to know they can too.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Emma Ayliffe completed high school in South Australia’s Mid North, and went straight to the University of Adelaide where she obtained a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture and Crop Science. She undertook post-graduate studies while working as an agronomist in South Australia and in southern New South Wales. Emma co-founded Summit Ag in 2016, and remains a director and consultant with the company. She is based in Lake Cargelligo, NSW.




Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Your comment will not appear until it has been moderated.
Contributions that contravene our Comments Policy will not be published.


Get Grain Central's news headlines emailed to you -