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AS a Western Australian station manager and a member of the Kimberley & Pilbara Cattleman’s Association, Shane Dunn is keenly aware of the challenges of staff retention – particularly within remote northern beef operations.
Mr Dunn is chief executive of Kimberley Agriculture and Pastoral Co, made up of four Indigenous-owned pastoral stations between Broome and Fitzroy Crossing in northern Western Australia. He is also a director of the AgPathAus careers development and recruitment program.
The four KAPCo properties – Mt Anderson, Myroodah, Frazier Downs and Bohemia Downs – operate under a single management structure to take advantage of the economies of scale offered from an integrated pastoral enterprise.
KAPCo provides an avenue for Indigenous people to gain training, skills and employment on country. Challenges in the region he cites include retaining young people and a lack of investment in infrastructure such as housing to enable good people to make a life within the industry.
“We (as an industry) promote a fun gap year or two and then we lose them. We need to rethink what we’re doing and provide a clear career path,” Mr Dunn said.
“As a jackeroo in 1980 at Brunette Downs, I recall a leading hand could set up a life for his family and be given a house to live in – but these days, even a head stockman finds it hard to get those privileges,” he said.
Despite the steady influx of seasonal workers post-COVID, Mr Dunn said skills shortages remained an issue in the northern beef industry.
“Backpackers and unskilled migrants may fill a certain gap, but it’s not helping us much – most of our roles require training and experience,” he said.
Identifying skills gaps
The ability to map skill sets at an individual and team level can help employers identify areas needing development, Mr Dunn said.
The program he has developed, AgPathAus, offers a skills-based assessment tool that helps identify the competency level of the employee against the role. This allows employers and staff to identify where training budgets can be utilised to the best effect, improving both the business team and the employee.
“Self-assessments and a supervisor assessment against a role are used to create a graph, showing where your team sits – they might have impressive livestock skills but need some training with machinery or some work in the Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) space,” he said.
The platform also allows employees to store their CVs, training records, licences and so on, in a secure, cloud-based system. Career path development is documented and is available to the employee for life.
On-property, one of Mr Dunn’s introductions to the KAPCo stations’ WHS is the daily toolbox sheet.
This is a simple one-page document used by the lead for the day with the team.
“All names are written in, jobs explained, risks and PPE verified, any broken or damaged items reported and then signed off. It takes literally ten minutes, provides clarity for the crew and gives us an auditable paper trail,” Mr Dunn said.