One way to bring home the bacon
Agriculture jobs are there for the taking, write Cara Jenkin and Debra Bela
ON paper, it appears jobs are being lost in agriculture – but there has never been a better time to get work feeding and clothing the state.
While the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports a decline in the number of people employed in the agriculture, fishing and forestry sector in the past 13 years, it is not because of a lack of jobs available.
Research commissioned by the Australian Council of Deans of Agriculture found more than 4000 jobs requiring a tertiary education in agriculture are advertised each year.
Australian universities train about 800 students a year in agriculture courses and enrolments are declining.
The council also revealed the median starting salary for an agriculture graduate is comparable to that of a law graduate, about $53,000.
The industry reports it is so tough to find Australian workers to fill jobs, employers are forced to recruit from overseas. University of Queensland Dean of Agriculture Neal Menzies says this disparity between demand and supply is indicative of people misunderstanding what an agriculture career means.
“This is an industry screaming out for graduates,’’ Menzies says. “Unfortunately kids are leaving school and moving into areas like forensic science programs because they’ve seen it in a TV show.
“They are not going to get a job from that.”
Agricultural science careers fall within the “agriculture – not further defined” category, which the Department of Employment shows as the fastest growing area of agricultural employment.
It increased by 67 per cent in the past five years and is expected to grow a further 17 per cent (7000 jobs) by November 2017.
Queensland Agriculture Minister John McVeigh says careers all along the supply chain fall into this growing category, “from advising farmers … to the lawyers, bankers and the buying and merchandising perspective of supermarkets.’’
Workers often only need a high school certificate to get started, although McVeigh is working to encourage greater participation in postschool courses.
Menzies says more education is needed to encourage school-leavers to consider an agriculture degree.
He swapped a degree in dentistry to pursue agricultural science in the 1980s, hoping to help stop the global famine as part of the green revolution.
After 20 years of relative prosperity, Menzies says the world is back on the brink of starvation.
“We are at a point where globally we need more food. There is global instability,” he says. “People are starving again and struggling to find food.
“We are back at the point where agriculture becomes interesting. How are we going to avoid the widespread famine of the 1960s?”
This is where Menzies sees Australia standing apart as a world leader.
“Australian farmers are extremely good at dealing with climate variability, growing crops on limited amounts of water, achieving profitable productive systems. So that’s what we sell to the world … our knowledge,’’ Menzies says.
In Townsville this week, plans have been revealed to double Queensland’s agricultural output, with Asia driving demand for specialist crops, beef, seafood and sugar.
McVeigh says turning North Queensland into a special