Fast tracked rural careers

OConnors Gareth Webb.jpg

CAREERS can be fast tracked in rural areas. Just ask Gareth Webb of Birchip. When I first spoke to him back in 2015 he was preparing to accompany a group of cropping farmers on a study tour of North America. “I’m working” he reassured me in the most serious voice he could muster.

Raised on a farm near Natimuk, Gareth attended the local primary school then secondary college in Horsham. Following university in Melbourne he then pursued a career in commerce getting a taste of the city life and gathering funds to source his passion for travel. Travelling through Turkey aged 23 years he came to the conclusion that he didn’t want to sit in an office for the rest of his life and started planning for the alternative upon his return.

'Coming from a farm I am attracted to the open spaces,' he admits. 'I started researching farm machinery companies and in 2004 joined O’Connor’s Birchip branch working in sales.' The added advantage was moving back to a rural area. 'You get community in a small town,' says Gareth.

Over a ten year period the award winning O’Connors has fast tracked Gareth’s career promoting him to branch manager and, most recently, to Group After-Sales Executive overseeing six branches across Victoria and South Australia.

Far from moving away from the action of big city enterprises Gareth has witnessed an explosion of new technology related systems supporting Australia’s agriculture industry to innovate and retain its status as a serious competitor in a global market.

O’Connors maintains a series of surveyed base stations strategically located throughout SA, VIC and NSW supplying a RTK signal capable of delivering 2cm accuracy. Precision Ag means that farmers can now monitor their entire fleet on a screen and communicate with machines via live telemetrics.

With skills shortages in many rural areas Gareth is living proof of how a career can be fast tracked. 'There is so much more potential in rural areas,” he says. “Do something you love and you will go a lot further in life.'

And what about city versus rural living? Gareth’s advice to young people from rural areas is to move to the city and travel before making long term plans. 'You don’t appreciate home until you’ve been somewhere else.'


KERRY ANDERSON: Author of ‘Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business,’ Kerry works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Operation Next Gen

BY KERRY ANDERSON

At some point in time every rural town faces major change. Like every good business the trick is to anticipate that change and explore alternatives well before it happens.  And sometimes, to save your town, it means the whole community has to work together.

"Losing 230 jobs in a town with a population of 2000 would be equivalent to losing 460,000 jobs in Melbourne," wrote Ed Gannon in The Weekly Times as he recently lamented the loss of the timber industry in his home town of Heyfield. He admits that the industry has been under threat and gradually declining over multiple decades but the final blow has still been devastating to the people involved.

Similarly, Morwell in the Latrobe Valley is reeling from the announced closure this month of the Hazelwood Power Station that employs 750 people. A huge impact on another community with a population of just over 13,000 as evidenced by a recent episode of Insight on SBS.

Heyfield and Morwell are far from isolated in this experience. Rural towns world wide are all having to reinvent themselves to survive which is why the Operation Next Gen Program was first developed in Australia to help communities look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes and understand the importance of encouraging and supporting entrepreneurs.

The key is to get the whole community on board and working cohesively together.  Yes, easier said than done, but it can be achieved with a bit of pre-planning, some enthusiastic community leadership, and a lot of good will. 

I have seen the evidence with my own eyes in rural Nebraska where organisations such as the Heartland Center and Center for Rural Entrepreneurship have been tackling the issue of declining rural communities for over 35 years. Building an entrepreneurial ecosystem is considered to be the solution to this widespread problem.

A great example of the success of this approach is the rural community of Ord in Valley County.  Ord has a rural population of 2,112 in the township, or 4,647 if you count the whole county.  This community worked strategically and cohesively to turn around huge issues similar to what we are experiencing in many rural towns here in Australia. 

When I spoke with Ord community leaders back in 2013 they had some pretty impressive results to report from their 12 year campaign.  During this period the Ord community had attracted $125 million of private and public investment and created 100 new businesses and 350 new jobs.  The benefits have been wide spread.  In addition to unemployment levels dropping and wages rising, there has been retail growth and the value of properties has risen.   Things are looking much brighter in Ord than they were 15 years ago when they were considering a particularly glum future.

Trust me, this success was not by accident.  A community wide economic plan was agreed upon and a Community Foundation was established specifically for the purpose of supporting new start-up businesses and business expansion.  The County (Shire Council), Chamber of Commerce, School and community leaders came together and all took responsibility to drive various initiatives to ensure the plan’s success.  A paid facilitator helped to keep the key partners informed and engaged.

Oh how I look forward to reporting on similar outcomes here in Australia as part of the Operation Next Gen Program that was first trialled with the rural towns of Birchip, Boort and Cohuna in 2013-14. 

But first we need to establish if a community is ready to successfully take on this challenge.  Here are a few of the key indicators that you can apply to your own community’s state of readiness.

Understanding of the challenges.   What if our community doesn’t understand the issues or the importance of them?  Then this is your number one priority as our political leaders recently discovered in the Federal election.  Don’t wait until you lose a major industry or your last bank or supermarket in town.  Being proactive in analysing the health of your community which is underpinned by the diversity of business and employment opportunities is essential, as is understanding that if business is doing well then so will the rest of your community.

Understanding of the opportunities.  One of our biggest inhibitors is thinking that we have to keep on doing the same old thing in the same old way.  News flash:  Times are changing!  We need to be able to look at existing landscapes with fresh eyes in the context of the technological revolution.  By all means celebrate tradition but don’t get bogged down in it if you want to survive.  The future is all about being adaptable and agile.

Engagement with entrepreneurs.  Understanding the needs and desires of entrepreneurs - both young people and those changing careers - and looking at ways that they can be assisted to build their businesses is essential.  They are our future and, even if they do leave town to study and travel, make them feel connected and know they will be supported upon their return.

Strong Leadership.  Not just in council or in our community and industry groups.  We need a network of leaders who proactively collaborate to come up with a big vision plan that has consistency across the whole community.  Invest in your leaders to ensure that they can be strong, positive, consistent and inclusive in their leadership style.

Inclusive.   I cannot stress enough the importance of involving everyone in your community in this discussion.  At the very least they will understand why these plans are important and hopefully they will provide creative input and take ownership of some of the activities.  Get over the silo approach and respect that everyone has different ways of thinking and processing.  Find the initiatives that you can agree on and run with them.  Success will breed success.

Prepared to commit to the long haul.  In what appears to be the era of instant gratification we need to understand that this won’t happen overnight.  We have to be prepared to celebrate the small milestones along the way and keep revisiting that big picture vision to remind ourselves of where our communities are heading.

Do you think your Australian rural town is in a state of readiness for positive change through an entrepreneurial ecosystem? If so, I’d love to hear from you.


KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, author, and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace new opportunities. READ MORE

Entrepreneurship: It’s everybody’s businessBOOK

Opening Doors

BY KERRY ANDERSON

At the recent Food & Fibre Matters Conference held in Canberra it emerged that there are two major impediments when it comes to educating the wider community about the importance of primary industries here in Australia.

The first is a negative perception in general, and the second is a huge disconnect between schools and industry.

In my last blog DESTROYING MYTHS I wrote about the need to destroy the misleading myths that dominate the primary industries image in the media and where better to start than with the next generation in the school system.  Not just secondary but also primary school age is considered essential.

When you think about it, agriculture is also perfect to underpin all of the STEM learning opportunities that the Australian Government is currently promoting and we all know that hands-on, real-life learning opportunities have far better outcomes.

Opening our business doors and farm gates to educators and students to break down these myths and promote understanding is crucial.

In the United Kingdom one of the options to receive a farm subsidy is to help deliver on farm education to schools.

In Scotland, and here in Australia, many producers concerned about the future willingly cooperate with their local schools for farm visits and work experience providing the schools give their support on the paperwork side.

Wambiana Station, a 50,000 acre working cattle station 70 kilometres south of Charters Towers in Queensland, has been hosting farm stays for school, university and industry groups for 24 years.

 Michelle Lyons at the Food & Fibre Matters conference sharing the benefits of opening the farm gates to students.

Michelle Lyons at the Food & Fibre Matters conference sharing the benefits of opening the farm gates to students.

“As producers it is our responsibility to explain good animal husbandry and not sugar coat it,” explains third generation farmer, Michelle Lyons.  “We put a human face to farming and help them understand why we need to vaccinate, castrate and brand our animals.”

She believes that a multi-sensory approach of absorbing and participating in farm life engages the interest of students.

Even sceptical zoology students coming to a cattle station to study biodiversity have been pleasantly surprised.  “Under the right conditions cattle and bio-diversity can co-exist,” smiles Michelle. 

Wow.  There goes another myth!

With my rural entrepreneur hat on I was invited to present a business and education perspective at the Food & Fibre Matters Conference and was pleasantly surprised to find such similar thinking over the two days of the conference.

In my 5 WAYS TO IMPROVE STUDENT ENGAGEMENT IN RURAL CAREERS presentation I spoke about a group of Wimmera farmers leading the way in establishing the Broader Horizons Program with St Arnaud Secondary College taking groups of students on a six week program to explore careers in agribusiness.

A significant outcome of this one day a week program was the realisation of students that higher learning is required to work in agriculture.

“I thought work on a farm would be easy but it’s not. Not just rock up and get a job, more to it. I need to focus,” reflected one student who participated in the Broader Horizons Program.

After all these conversations around the region and at the conference it is clear to me that business and primary industries have got exactly the same challenges and opportunities.  So, together let’s start destroying those myths and opening those doors!

For more information about the PIEFA Food & Fibre Matters conference FOLLOW THIS LINK

For free business resources for the classroom FOLLOW THIS LINK 

KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.

www.kerryanderson.com.au

Destroying Myths

BY KERRY ANDERSON

 Glenden Watts is but one of many young farmers bringing new ways of thinking to agriculture, far from the "Old Crusty Farmer" myth.

Glenden Watts is but one of many young farmers bringing new ways of thinking to agriculture, far from the "Old Crusty Farmer" myth.

“AGRICULTURE is the most important profession in the world,” Jay Jackman from the United States reminded delegates attending the recent Food & Fibre Matters Conference in Canberra. “Nothing is more basic to survival of mankind as food, clothing and shelter.”

And yet in subsequent conversations with 160 delegates and presenters it emerged that there are two major impediments when it comes to educating the wider community about the importance of agriculture here in Australia.

The first is a negative perception of primary industries in general, and the second is a huge disconnect between schools and industry.

Farming advocate Lynne Strong didn’t hold back any punches on what needs to be done.

“We need to get the agriculture image right for starters,” she says.  “Farmers are the experts at selling despair and sending negative images.”

It’s hard not to agree with her.  Australian agriculture is at the forefront of innovation and yet it continues to have this crusty old farmer image that only appears in the media, or when there is bad news – Murray Goulburn case in point!

Far from the widely shared myth, research by demographic expert Neil Barr shows that Australia enjoys the second youngest average age of farmers worldwide.  93 percent of food eaten in Australia is produced in Australia.  Only 18 percent of those working in the agricultural industry are involved directly on farms while 82 percent work in the supply chain of agribusiness. 

Think scientists, engineers and skilled food and fibre producers engaged in highly technical challenges day in and day out.  Hmmm.  It’s hard to get past those old, sad, drought stricken farmer images though.  But push on we must!

With my rural entrepreneur hat on I was invited to present a business and education perspective at the Food & Fibre Matters Conference.  In my 5 WAYS TO BETTER ENGAGE STUDENTS IN RURAL CAREERS presentation I spoke about the need for schools to engage with industry and community.  Educators can't be expected to do it alone.

When sharing the project outcomes at another forum I Skyped Gareth Webb from O’Connor’s Birchip into a room full of educators in Bendigo and he surprised everyone with how much has changed in the industry.

Even during his short career Gareth has witnessed an explosion of new technology related systems supporting Australia’s agriculture industry to innovate and remain competitive in a global market.

“While we previously took young people and put them through an apprenticeship, now we are looking for employees with degrees,” Gareth said.

It’s exciting times world-wide.  At the Food & Fibre Matters conference we learned how New Zealand with its far smaller population has just launched a new colourful GROW NZ brand.  In line with the NZ government’s objective to double the value of primary industries over the next decade, it is anticipated that while less people will be required to work on farms, thousands of new jobs will be created.   They just hope they can get the people to fill the roles!

With all this in mind, Australian producers are being challenged to become better advocates by OPENING DOORS, the topic of my next blog. 

Business and primary industries have got exactly the same challenges and opportunities.  So, together let’s start destroying those myths!

OTHER LINKS:

If you were admiring Tinker and her master, Glenden Watts in the photo above you can read more CLICK HERE

For more information about the PIEFA Food & Fibre Matters Conference CLICK HERE

For free business resources for the classroom CLICK HERE 

To read about Neil Barr's research for RIRDC CLICK HERE

KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.

www.kerryanderson.com.au

Better Engaging Students

BY KERRY ANDERSON

RURAL towns play an important role in supporting primary industries and it is essential to broaden our thinking on rural career opportunities in these exciting technological times.  Educators, industry and community need to work together to ensure that our young people reach their full potential as educators cannot be expected to do this alone.  This was my key message at the recent Food & Fibre Matters Conference hosted by the Primary Industries Education Foundation in Canberra at which I was delighted to present. 

Engaging students in exploring broader career opportunities was the focus of the Operation next Gen Down to Business Project.  So what were the five lessons that relate to educators from this pilot project?  None of them should be a surprise.

#1 Students respond best to a mix of learning.

As part of the Be Your Own Boss program trialed in 2015 at Wycheproof P-12 College, this couldn’t have been more evident.  The year 7/8 economics students were wildly excited to do Skype interviews with a software entrepreneur in Sydney, tour a start-up bakery, interview a range of business people in the classroom, and work as a group to scope out their own business idea.

Low literacy students showed the biggest outcomes, suddenly keen to ask questions, and enthusiastically leading the way on site tours.  Even the reflection activities provided stimulation.

When workshopping ideas with students at another rural secondary college on how classroom learning could be improved not everyone followed the usual dot point word format. One group came up with this graphic which says it perfectly.

#2 Learning makes more sense if students understand why

St Arnaud Secondary College’s Broader Horizons Program is a classic example of why we need to link the curriculum with real life careers.

Groups of students were taken on a six week program to explore careers in agribusiness, health and local government; all readily available career paths in rural Victoria.  Most students agreed that the program helped them decide on appropriate electives as they headed into year 10.

Student comments revealed another significant outcome from this program.

One student suddenly realised why she needs to learn the periodic table in chemistry after spending a day with a clinical nurse at the local hospital.

“I thought work on a farm would be easy but it’s not,” reflected another student who participated in the agri-business stream. “It's not just rock up and get a job, there's more to it. I need to focus.”

At a recent forum in Bendigo, Gareth Webb from O’Connor’s Birchip Branch revealed to educators that degrees are now commonly required for O'Connor's employees, a far cry from the old apprenticeship days.   Even in his relatively short career, Gareth explained how he has witnessed an explosion of new technology related systems supporting Australia’s agriculture industry to innovate and remain competitive in a global market.

#3 Real primary producers and business people get their attention

It’s all very well to read the theory and discuss ideas in class but nothing gets a student’s attention better than talking face to face (or even by Skype) with a REAL person working in that industry.

Not just any old business person or producer, I might add.  Invite the high achievers, the innovators, the movers and shakers to meet with students.  How else can they get excited, not to mention relevant information?

During the Be Your Own Boss program I enlisted the President of the local Progress Association to help identify who we should invite into the classroom.  Someone in your community will also be willing to help with this task if you ask them.

Successful people understand why it is important to help inspire the next generation so don’t be afraid to ask.

An ex country lad, Jordan Knight, now residing in Sydney and contracted to design software for clients like Microsoft, was only too happy to give up 20 minutes of his day to chat via Skype. 

#4 Never underestimate the potential of disengaged students

You only have to look at the bios of famous entrepreneurs around the world to realise that the class clowns and disruptors are the potential entrepreneurs and possibly even your future boss.  I hear this repeatedly as I speak with young business people and primary producers who found the education system most uninspiring so they looked outside the classroom for learning.

During the Be Your Own Boss program I recall the impressed look on a business person’s face when asked a particularly intelligent question … wait for it … by one of those low literacy students I was warned about.  I rest my case!

 microsoft's bill gates in his disruptive youth

microsoft's bill gates in his disruptive youth

#5 Entrepreneurship: It’s Everybody’s Business!

Yes, this is the working title of my book and thrust of my key message to rural communities.  Educators, industry and community need to work together to ensure that our young people reach their full potential.  Educators cannot be expected to do this alone.

Bakery on Broadway in Wycheproof is a classic example of how a group of farmers, teachers, truck drivers and community leaders came together.  Love it!

For more information about the Operation Next Gen and Down to Business Projects undertaken in partnership with Community Leadership Loddon Murray and the North Central Local Learning & Employment Network, please follow this LINK

For FREE classroom activities and resources follow this LINK

KERRY ANDERSON:  A businesswoman, philanthropist and community advocate from Central Victoria, Kerry Anderson is passionate about rural and regional Australia.  She works with small businesses and rural communities to help them embrace opportunities.

www.kerryanderson.com.au