It is a perennial problem for those in training jobs: How do you provide real-world experience to people in a classroom? In some industries it's more difficult than others. In agriculture, for instance, it's as unfeasible to travel out to rural Australia for training exercises as it is to have real-life farming experiences in your local training facility.
However, in New South Wales, two training organisations believe they have the answer in a new program called Ag Gap.
"This program really gives young people the opportunity to try but also build their confidence, networks and skills."
The program puts trainees into three-, six-, or 12-month tenures out in rural Australia, where they will experience the true farming lifestyle. The initiative will now be taken up by rural education program Hay Inc. and the TAFE NSW New England Institute, according to a report by ABC Rural.
Ag Gap will also take trainees from around Australia – not necessarily limiting it to NSW residents – and place people in agricultural training programs as far away as the Northern Territory.
This initial stage of the initiative will see five finalists from the Heywire Regional Youth Summit, which took place in Canberra earlier this year, head out into the real world for hands-on training.
Helping young trainees
Margo Andrae, General Manager – Industry at AgriFood Skills Australia, said she sees this as a positive step forwards for Australia's agricultural training industry.
"This program really gives young people the opportunity to try but also build their confidence, networks and skills. It also shows them the lifestyle opportunities available in rural Australia," she explained.
"We see these styles of training as an excellent introduction to the breath of courses available in our vocation education training sector, and once the Ag Gap participants understand the opportunities they are then able to seek out additional training, which in turn upskills our rural and regional workforces. We need all levels of skilled workers to ensure a strong future workforce."
Could this take off in the wider training industry?
Ms Andrae also saw how the gap-year style of training (or indeed a program that only lasts a few months) can add value to other industries, as well as helping with many of the challenges around the training of entry-level employees in general.
"Every industry faces the same challenge of attracting and retaining young people," she began. "There are a huge number of industries in rural Australia who aim to attract young people with everything from health, education, animal care, and transport – just to name a few. This program could easily be adapted to work for their specific needs."
The wider adoption of such a program could certainly put training industry recruitment under the spotlight, with longer-term, off-site positions necessary to provide learners with a complete skill and knowledge set. For the meantime, it will be worth keeping an eye on the successes of this new approach.
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