National honour for farm work project
A RURAL City of Wangaratta initiative to help droughtravaged farmers has been recognised for its potential to benefit the entire nation.
The Rural Skills Connect program, which was the brainchild of council’s chief executive officer Doug Sharp, took out a 2008 National Economic Development Award in Brisbane on Wednesday night.
It won the strategic national category for a project that has the potential to have an impact on a national basis.
The program increases opportunities for farmers to gain qualifications to work off-farm, and fills skill shortages in regional and rural business such as welding, mechanics and transport.
Mr Sharp said he was “like a cat on a hot tin roof” at the presentation night, with three other regional areas already taking out awards before the announcement of the national winner.
“I was quite blown away,” he said.
“We were up against all the major players like Queensland Tourism and Parramatta City Council up near Sydney.
“So to win the big one was a really good result and I think recognition of a really good project.”
Mr Sharp said the idea for Rural Skills Connect, which was only put forward in September last year, was picked up by the State Government and has been rolled out across Victoria.
He said there was certainly potential for the program to benefit other communities in Australia.
“It wouldn’t even need to be drought-type circumstances,” Mr Sharp said.
“Rural skills could be matched up with skill shortages anywhere.”
Rural Skills Connect to date has 150 participants, 72 of which are enrolled in formal training across a range of 82 different disciplines.
Industry is also reporting a strengthening of the labour pool and increased productivity.
FRESH START: Wayne Batten is one of the success stories of the Rural Skills Connect program, which has this week been recognised at a national level. As well as running a cattle farm at Greta, Mr Batten has also been working with Cook’s Earthmoving and is gaining accreditation in the use of heavy machinery.