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Talking Point: Jobs growing in hi-tech farm sector

The Mercury, 30 Sep 2015 - IN less than two weeks, about 70,000 Australian teenagers will sit down to complete papers in the Tasmanian Certificate of Education exams.
Talking Point: Jobs growing in hi-tech farm sector

A Sense-T sensor amongst the lettuce at Houston's Farm in Richmond. Picture: SAM ROSEWARNE

When the results come in, these young people will need to make important decisions about what they will do with the rest of their lives.

Australia’s smartest school leavers are increasingly likely to choose to enrol in university courses in natural and physical sciences or engineering rather than arts or even commerce.

Agriculture and environmental courses are now more popular among top students than education.

This information was supplied by the Education Department to a recent Senate Estimates committee hearing.

This data shows almost 40 per cent of students enrolling in university-level courses in natural and physical sciences or engineering had TCE results in the 90-plus band of the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank. This cohort was twice as likely to study information technology (11.3 per cent) or agriculture (10.4 per cent) as they were to consider careers in teaching (5.3 per cent). Just over a quarter of this group enrolled in management and commerce courses; another quarter chose health courses.

This confirms there is rising interest in careers relevant to agribusiness. Engineering, science, IT, commerce and management are cornerstone skills for successful businesses in this growing sector.

There is a renewed interest in traditional agricultural science courses too. Universities nationwide saw a jump in student numbers in agricultural studies for 2015. Several reported enrolments were the highest in years.

Recent statistics show for every agricultural graduate there are 2.5 jobs available. With the average age in the sector at 52, the number of jobs will only increase as many people in the industry reach retirement age.

Salaries are on the rise too, with many positions offering attractive packages to new graduates.

More than half the jobs in the sector are based in cities and major regional centres, and many are science-based and hi-tech, with a focus on sustainability.

Demand for qualified employees is rising globally, which means people can pursue careers working and travelling almost anywhere in the world. Having said that, experts estimate that industry needs about 4000 graduates a year.

The trend might be up, but best guess is we will still be about 3000 graduates a year down on meeting that need.

On that basis, we may still face a drought in agricultural innovation as scientists retire or accept redundancies as governments restructure and shed staff in agencies.

There are also careers that don’t require university qualifications. Diploma or associate degree courses are available in some fields.

There is a wide range of vocational education courses on offer at TAFE and private providers. Apprenticeships or traineeships are also available in some areas of the industry.

The word “agriculture” evokes images of farmers on the land. Almost every time we see a farmer in the media, it is someone old and grizzled, wearing a battered hat, leaning on a fence complaining.

You may not have noticed, but modern agriculture is not like that. Our industry is having a makeover. We are younger, smarter and early adopters of technological solutions. Today we have to be lean, quick and efficient, and smarter than our competitors.

Today’s agribusinesses incorporate many career paths — agronomy, horticulture, crop production, animal production, food science, racing, vet technology, wildlife management, marketing, quality control, engineering, environmental science, information technology, industrial relations, business development, finance and investment, communications, economist, trader, policy analyst, teacher, researcher, fashion designer — the list goes on and on.

Australian agribusiness attracts school leavers to those seeking a sea change.

Working in agriculture offers tangible results and immediate satisfaction.

People who work in our industry contribute to improving quality of life for all Australians, through producing clean, green and fabulous food and fibre products. And they make a difference, every day.

It doesn’t get much better.


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