ENTICING the next generation to pursue a career in agriculture can be a challenge, but one new program is helping attract a strong contingent of young people into the wool industry.
Wool broker Quality Wool has created its own pathway for young team members that is set to benefit their careers and woolgrowers across the country.
The impact of the program has been immediate. In the past five months, the company has employed six young staff who will soon be posted across Australia and will help senior staff support growers.
Despite the tough seasonal conditions that have slashed wool production across much of the country, Quality Wool established the youth program to help improve the industry’s future.
“We are committing to young people with a workshop program that educates them on-the-job, whilst they are employed,” Quality Wool managing director Mark Dyson said.
He said due to a range of factors – including limited courses on offer – there had been a deficiency in employing young people, particularly technical personnel, in the wool sector for the past 20 years.
What happens at fibre growing stage and leading up to auction has far-reaching effects on the final product – and on demand from the end customer.
“With the previous historically low wool prices and declining sheep and wool numbers, there was not much of a bright horizon for those wanting to enter the industry,” he said.
“With more buoyant times, the good work by Australian Wool Innovation into technologies and innovation through to overseas customers and our dedicated workshop program in the industry, we are receiving inquiries every week.”
The six recently-employed young team members are aged 21 to 34 and come from a range of agricultural backgrounds, including shearing and farmhand work, while two are also professional woolclassers.
“They now want to turn their hand to the technical side of the industry, which will benefit growers as they continue to work with senior technical staff at Quality Wool,” Mr Dyson said.
The workshop program is assisted by AWI consultant Carol Stubbs, who has a strong background in the fashion industry, which has been particularly valuable for the young team’s understanding of the farm to fabric wool process.
“From a greasy bale of wool, they have been shown all the way through to the end garment product that has been produced from different wool types, so they understand the importance of classing and preparing wool for growers,” Mr Dyson said.
“From the bale of wool entering our stores, the program has taken them through lotting, sampling, testing – including a visit to the Australian Wool Testing Authority lab in Melbourne – presentation on the show floor, auctions where they met buyers, through to identifying the wool types suitable for different garments.”
Every step of the supply chain is important, especially since Australia is the leading supplier of Merino apparel in the world.
Ms Stubbs said the education was critical to give staff the context and bigger picture understanding of their roles in the industry.
“The training goes through all aspects of the wool pipeline, including the latest product innovations,” she said. “What happens at fibre growing stage and leading up to auction has far-reaching effects on the final product – and on demand from the end customer.
“It shows how important it is to be specific in all the classifications and the effect of this further down the line, and why it is critical to relay information back to growers.
“Every step of the supply chain is important, especially since Australia is the leading supplier of Merino apparel in the world.”
Originally from Adelaide, James Kellett joined Quality Wool after four years of farmhand and shearing work on the Eyre Peninsula. He said for someone who was not familiar with the industry, the program provided a wider perspective on the whole process in simple terms.
Mr Kellett particularly enjoyed visiting the Geelong, Vic, wool store and Melbourne auction rooms, including meeting with wool buyers.
Suzie Carlon, who has been classing wool the past four years and recently commenced work based from the Quality Wool store at Orange, NSW, said the program provided a much greater understanding and a different perspective on the full process than she had already gained.
Ms Carlon, who also holds a Bachelor of Agricultural Science but prefers the wool and livestock industry, said it particularly highlighted the importance of getting wool preparation right on the farm.