VICTORIA’S rejuvenated shearer and wool handler training courses are offering new work options for workers laid off or at risk due to the COVID-19 pandemic business downturn.
But despite the training courses being held across the state to strong demand supported by $1.2 million in state government funding, organisers are concerned about their future with the assistance ends.
Chief executive officer of the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia’s Shearer Woolhandler Training division, Glenn Haynes, said the courses are currently attracting workers concerned about the ending of the JobKeeper assistance in September.
“They are just going through their options so we are getting a few people coming back that have previously been in the industry, that are thinking about coming back into it because they are unsure whether they will have a job when JobKeeper runs out in September.
“We also have others who have come in that have basically lost their jobs, seasonal workers who normally travel to other states and have decided if ‘If I am staying here I may as well learn something new,” he said.
Mr Haynes said two backpackers on working visas attended the last shearing course near Geelong at the ‘Barunah Plains’ property.
“I got both of them jobs, one starts on the 20th of July and one starts this week.”
Despite Australia’s historically low sheep numbers, Mr Haynes said demand for shearers and wool handlers is very strong. He said the estimated 300 New Zealand shearers that would usually help shear the state flock this spring will not be coming due to COVID-19 restrictions.
This meant there will be more opportunities with contractors for shed hands wanting to shear for on-the-job training, he said
“And they will take our students as wool handlers that are coming straight out of courses.
“One hundred percent of the people that are doing our shearing courses at the moment will have a job at the other end of it if they want to go into the industry after they’ve done the course,” he said.
“Some people have their names down to take over 20 workers.”
However, Mr Haynes said the shearer training courses could not be run without the $1.2 million in government assistance.
He said the normal training subsidy rate was inadequate and only covered one trainer for a class of 15 people, whereas for safety and to cover extra costs, shearer training needed one trainer for every four students at a maximum. One trainer can only monitor two stands safely.
“We are getting a higher rate (per student contact hour) out of the shearer training funding to cover all the costs.
“If there wasn’t that funding, if you had to go back to that normal contact hour rate, it wouldn’t even come close to covering the trainers’ wages for the week, let alone all the other costs that go with it,” he said.
Mr Haynes said it had been estimated that if the training with three trainers and 10 students was funded at the normal contract hour rate, thousands of dollars would be lost on every course.
“It’s been fantastic to have that extra funding.”
The $1.2 million in funding is expected to run out in June 2022.
Funding for more trainers, new qualifications
Minister for Training and Skills Gayle Tierney recently visited a shearing facility at Barunah Plains, outside Geelong, one of eight locations across Victoria where training is being delivered to address the skill shortage in the state’s growing wool sector.
The government’s $1.2 million investment is supporting South West TAFE, RIST at Hamilton and the SCAA Shearer Woolhandler Training division, to increase the number of teachers to deliver shearing training at more locations.
The investment is also creating an entry level qualification to help retention rates at the Certificate II and Certificate III levels of Sheep Shearing and upgrade and improve existing learning resources.
This funding boost will help more people complete the formal training pathway through to the Certificate III in Shearing, a professional level qualification. Training has been funded for 125 enrolments for three accredited shearing qualifications across eight regional locations. The qualifications are Introductory Shearing, Certificate II in Shearing and Certificate III in Shearing.
Some training was put on hold due to the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic; however, it is now fully under way using social distancing for the busy June to November period, when the peak of shearing activity occurs.
South West TAFE is also working with industry to provide resources and training for additional shearing teachers.
Victoria exported $2.1 billion worth of wool in 2017/18, and this training program will grow the industry further by creating new jobs and attracting more qualified shearers.
Minister for Training and Skills Gayle Tierney said the government was working to ensure the state’s pool of highly-skilled shearers is keeping up with the growth of Victoria’s wool industry and upholding its reputation for quality produce.
“Students shouldn’t have to move far away from home to get a great education – and we’re proud to be supporting more shearing training to be spread over more locations across Victoria.”
Minister for Agriculture Jaclyn Symes said shearing has been at the heart of countless country towns in Victoria for many years.
“This investment strengthens those skills that’ve been passed down through the generations and invests in a new generation of shearers.”