Kim O’Keeffe, the Nationals Member for Shepparton District, is calling for significant financial investment in agriculture education to inspire students to pursue a career in the industry.
Ms O’Keeffe participated in a recent roundtable discussion, facilitated by La Trobe University Chancellor, the Hon John Brumby AO. The event brought together 40 participants with the objective of exploring strategies to connect students with employment prospects in the region and enhance their engagement in higher education pathways.
“As the nation’s food bowl, the Goulburn Valley brims with opportunities. However, to sustain our world-class food and fibre production, we must ensure students have ‘paddock ready’ practical experiences to complement the classroom theory,” said Ms O’Keeffe.
“Victoria’s agriculture industry is predicted to be worth A$100 billion by 2030, and we need to be sure we have a skilled workforce that is ready to respond to that opportunity.
“Whether it’s teaching, healthcare, or construction, we’ve witnessed a chronic shortage of skilled workers under the Andrews Labor Government for years, and Victoria’s agriculture workforce supply chain is vulnerable from under-investment.
“With a staggering 25 per cent of Australia’s farms in Victoria, shouldn’t Labor be building an education system that values the worth of our agricultural industries?” said Ms O’Keeffe.
Out of approximately 600 secondary schools in Victoria, a mere 35 (5.8%) offered Agriculture and Horticulture Units 1/2 for Year 11, and just 26 schools (4.3%) provided Units 3/4 for Year 12.
In 2021, the in-school Vocational Education and Training (VET) stats revealed that 1,470 students embarked on studying a Certificate II in Agriculture. However, only 265 students (18%) managed to successfully complete the program.
“Hands-on experience to develop the skills involved in animal breeding and welfare, soil and plant biology, machinery operations, weed and pest control and aquiculture is critical at a secondary school level,” said Ms O’Keeffe.
“To sustain our workforce, the Andrews Government must invest in agriculture and horticulture opportunities for secondary students, including appropriate facilities and qualified teachers,” said Ms O’Keeffe.
“It was great to have Roger and Leslie Gillespie, founders of Bakers Delight and creators of the Bradford Pathway Program, join the round table. This program provides financial support to disadvantaged students, enabling them to pursue their educational aspirations.”
The Bradford Shepparton Program supports Year 11 students through Year 12, preparing them for higher education. In 2021, an impressive 60% of participants enrolled in tertiary education. This achievement stands out when compared to the mere 13% of 19- to 21-year-olds in Shepparton who pursue higher education after secondary school.
“These innovations and interventions play a crucial role in future-proofing our workforce, promoting growth and active engagement in work and education,” said Ms O’Keeffe.