WOOL classer Sherri Symons likes to spin a good yarn about working with wool and she knows the value of her chosen profession.
Ms Symons grew up around sheep and has forged a successful career in the industry, but she laments that not everyone shares her enthusiasm for wool.
“I just love the fibre of wool,” she says. “It’s the most incredible fibre, no matter what micron it is. The properties of wool are incredible but they’re under-appreciated by current society.
“If you buy a $200 wool jumper, you’ve got that for the rest of your life. Sadly, in today’s throwaway society people get a jumper and they’re done with it before the season has even ended.
“I find that really disappointing.”
Ms Symons has been a wool classer for nearly 15 years and recently added teaching to her resume. She is helping to deliver South West TAFE’s new wool classing course starting in early March at Maroona near Ararat.
Wool classing has taken her across all Australian states except Western Australia and she has also worked in New Zealand.
“Once you get into the industry and start wool classing, the number of incredible and amazing people you meet along the way is phenomenal,” she said.
“I’ve come across such a diverse range of people and learnt so much from being in the industry.”
Now Ms Symons is trying to inspire a new generation of wool classers.
“I wish there were more people wanting to go into the industry, especially young people because of the opportunities that are there,” she said.
Demand is strong for wool classers and Ms Symons continues working in the profession when she can, while also teaching.
“I frequently get phone calls asking me to class but I have to tell them I’m now teaching the next generation of wool classers.
“I’m trying to get more people into the industry for them but on my holidays and weekends, I help friends and family out as much as I can and thoroughly enjoy it.”
This ongoing practical experience assists her teaching work.
“I’m a strong believer that you have to keep your finger in the game to relate to the people in the industry.”
Ms Symons grew up on a sheep and beef farm at Ellerslie. Her patents are Neville and Carolina Symons. She studied an Advanced Diploma in Rural Business Management at Glenormiston and completed South West TAFE’s wool classing course.
“I wanted to go classing because I wanted to travel,” she said.
“I jumped into working in the industry and didn’t leave.”
She says the wool classing course is essential for anyone wanting to work in the field and it can be a pathway to new opportunities.
“I’ve known many people who have gone from being a shed hand or a classer and now they’re managing the farm.
“The course gives you the nitty gritty of what you need to be able to look at wool and class and grade it,” she said.
“If you consistently get good test results for a farmer, buyers are going to want to keep buying from that farmer.”
Ms Symons says the industry is “screaming out” for wool classers.
“Wool classing can be for anybody but it helps to have some experience as a wool handler,” she said.
“I absolutely love it.”
But she recognises there are some things that make it difficult.
“I would love to have running water and a toilet located at every shed, but it’s farm life and it’s an incredible industry to be in to see a vast range of Australia.”
South West TAFE is also planning courses in Mortlake and Hamilton later this year and may do a residential course at Glenormiston College in the future.
To find out more about the South West TAFE wool classing course, call 1300 648 911 or visit www.swtafe.edu.au