TAMWORTH careers advisor Charles Impey would like to see the National Merino Challenge – the Olympics of sheep and wool — hit the road.
Despite the challenge’s popularity, as it is rotated annually to major state capitals or regional centres, the NMC careers panel facilitator believes the challenge could be more accessible.
He believes the cost of fielding, feeding and accommodating a challenge team means many agricultural students don’t get the opportunity to learn things not shown at regional agricultural shows.
“The content of knowledge or intellectual property that is being built up through a whole lot of people coming together and developing learning materials and resources allows students to learn and gain so much out of this.
“I call this the Olympics of sheep and wool – because it covers everything,” he said.
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In just five years, the two-day challenge, organised by Australian Wool Innovation with the help of industry bodies and companies has established itself as a must-go-to event for many secondary and tertiary agricultural students across the nation.
Its mix of hands-on sheep and wool classing exercises, practical management and breeding knowledge exercises, and a careers panel, run within a positive competitive format promoting individual and team effort, has been a hit with aspiring young industry professionals.
Mr Impey is not a country boy, is “more or less citified”, but joined the initial NMC steering committee in 2012 when he was with Rural Skills Australia because he wanted to see young people discover their career. He is now career advisor with the Calrossy Anglican School and a Tamworth Regional councillor.
After his school was unable to field a NMC team this year due to the cost, he supported the idea of taking NMC to the students.
“It is difficult to raise $9000-$10,000 when you are high school students in a school, when your ag teacher is already busy taking students to shows and has too much on their plate.
“This event has come in five years ago and I suppose it has had to find its way into the culture of agricultural students, and sometimes these things take a bit of time.
“But I think we started with 56 students in Dubbo (NMC 2012), we’ve got 110 here and we had 120 in Sydney last year … so we’ve effectively doubled the numbers from the original event in Dubbo – that’s a win.”
Mobile NMC would have teacher training benefits
Mr Impey contends with a mobile NMC being taken to ag school and college campuses, teachers could benefit by doing training endorsed by the National Education Standards Australia at the same time as
“Teachers now require, in New South Wales at least professional development that is endorsed by NESA.
“The National Merino Challenge and the Train-The-Trainer component of that is NESA endorsed,” Mr Impey said.
“The teachers can benefit from this (a mobile NMC) by taking some of their endorsed training, which needs to be half of their overall training each year from 2018, so there is a big opening.
“If I’m a teacher of agriculture or primary industries in a high school and I’m thinking ‘Wow, these guys are going to come to my town to do the training for me so I can do my professional development and they’re going to provide insights, information and knowledge to my students I am going to jump at that.”
Mr Impey said attracting students to agriculture courses is not the issue, student retention in agricultural careers is the problem.
“Primary industries and agriculture in high schools in New South Wales is the third or fourth most popular subject in schools in terms of overall numbers, but when they leave school they go off in all sorts of directions.”
A great idea, but AWI has become stale and lazy, having become good at “what’s good for AWI comes first”, rather than what’s good for our collective future. That’s the trouble with a levy body who answers to no-one.