26 May, 2024

Gap-year hosts needed

Want to give a young person hands-on experience in farming and have your enterprise benefit at the same time?

By Wimmera Mallee News

Gap-year hosts needed - feature photo

Producers interested in taking part in the National Farmers’ Federation's (NFF) gap-year program AgCAREERSTART are being sought.

Agriculture's national peak body has chalked up a new milestone in its initiative, having 80 participants currently on farm and the program celebrating an 83 per cent industry retention rate among graduates.

Applications from young Australians keen to take part in 2025 will be accepted from late July, but farmers are encouraged to apply now to offer themselves as gap-year hosts.

When Sydneysider Daniel Gierek attended the Western Sydney Careers Expo last year he couldn't have anticipated that within a few months he’d find himself working on a macadamia farm near Maryborough, Queensland.

But after stumbling across the AgCAREERSTART gap-year program he decided to apply alongside his best mate, Duke Richardson.

“We weren’t necessarily looking to work in agriculture - we just knew we wanted to take a gap-year before uni,” Mr Richardson said.

“I'd heard about other gap-year programs but this one caught my eye because it looked like it would open more doors with networking and education opportunities.”

Mr Gierek and Mr Richardson were fortunate to be placed with the same employer, corporate Rural Funds Management, where they say they're now thriving.

“I’ve loved every second of it," Mr Gierek said.

"I’ve learned a lot so far and met so many new people.

"Once I got used to the early days and the humid weather I really felt at home here in Maryborough and I’m starting to love the farming lifestyle.

“I never realised how much I would love working outdoors and everyone in our community has made us feel very welcome.”

A host farmer’s view

Mungindi, NSW, farmer Sam Heagney is now in his third year as an employer with the program, having hosted four AgCAREERSTART participants.

“It’s been great for us as a gateway to welcoming more young people into our business," Mr Heagney said.

"They’re green, which certainly comes with its challenges, but overall it’s been a really worthwhile experience.

"It’s rewarding to see them develop over their time on farm and we’ve been fortunate to retain one of our participants beyond the end of her placement last year.”

Mr Heagney's 15,000-hectare broadacre property employs about 14 staff.

He said he was proud the average age of his employees was under 30.

Originally from Melbourne himself, he said he strongly believed that industry had an obligation to create better pathways into agriculture.

“We have to," Mr Heagney said.

"We historically haven’t been very good as an industry at helping young people get into agriculture and programs like this are critical.”

A success story

In its three years to date, the AgCAREERSTART gap-year program has seen 180 young Australians take up posts on farms across the country.

Run by the NFF, it has welcomed a diverse range of new people to the industry, with six per cent Aboriginal and 64 per cent female participation.

The program has been growing year-on-year across the pilot, having placed 30 participants in 2022, 70 in 2023 and 80 in 2024.

NFF CEO Tony Mahar said the organisation was keen to see the program continue.

“We know there's demand to bring future farmers into the industry and the program’s success rate speaks for itself," Mr Mahar sais.

"What we really need now is for the federal government to commit to further funding to provide certainty and ensure the program’s future.”

The application process for would-be student participants for the 2025 program will run from July 22 until September 29.

However, farmers are urged to apply as soon as possible.

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