Operation Grain Harvest Assist linking former defence force personnel with labour-starved agriculture industry
20 Oct 2022
Labour shortages have long been an issue in the agriculture industry, but a new initiative is aimed at trying to increase the staffing pool, and at the same time boost the employment opportunities for a very deserving group of Australians.
Operation Grain Harvest Assist had its beginnings in Western Australia before last year's harvest and has now been piloted through Longerenong College in Victoria with the support of Case IH dealership O'Connors and Case IH Australia/New Zealand.
Last month, 18 former defence force personnel learned the ins and outs of the grains industry and the operation of farm machinery, including a combine harvester, and are now looking towards opportunities to assist farming businesses during the busy harvest season.
David Hair is the executive senior sales manager for O'Connors and said they became involved after an approach from Ouyen farmer and returned service person Ian Hastings and Royal Australian Armoured Corps officer Lt-Col Garry Spencer AM, who had been in discussions about getting Operation Grain Harvest Assist running through a leading agriculture training institution.
O'Connors and Case IH have coordinated their apprentice training through Longerenong College for many years, so David said the decision to become involved in such an exciting initiative was an easy one.
"This program helps achieve two big objectives: offering employment opportunities for returned servicepeople and addressing the considerable labour shortfalls we have across the grain-growing industry," David said.
"Operation Grain Harvest Assist helps provide new paths for our returned service men and women, to whom our nation owes so much, and it's also important to Case IH to support an initiative that can help Australian farmers meet their labour needs and increase the staffing pool for the agriculture sector, which, like so many industries at present, is struggling to find the number of workers it needs" - Pete McCann, General Manager Case IH Australia/New Zealand
"Through undergoing this training, the participants could undertake everything from operating harvesters and driving tractors with chaser bins, to unloading grain trucks and even working in grain-handling facilities. This initiative fulfills two critical needs and we're proud to have been involved in it and to meet this amazing group of individuals who have done so much for their country during their many years of service."
An intensive week of training at the college last month involved classroom theory on machinery and broad-acre farm production, combine simulator training, walkarounds with the two Case IH Axial-Flow combines that are used at Longerenong, getting behind the controls of the combines with fronts attached, and two local farm visits.
David said it had been such a pleasure for his team to meet the 18 program participants who had a combined 450 years of service in the Australian defence forces and many of whom had risen to the top of their respective fields.
"They're now looking for new challenges and it's been so rewarding for us to introduce them to the many opportunities within the agriculture sector, and hopefully connect them with local farmers who can use all the help they can get, particularly during the looming harvest season," he said.
Case IH was the program's major sponsor - with O'Connors' dealerships, MacDon Australia, Muddy River Agricultural and Waringa Enterprises among other contributors - and the company's General Manager, Pete McCann, said it was exciting to see what had been achieved and the potential for the agriculture industry going forward.
"Operation Grain Harvest Assist helps provide new paths for our returned service men and women, to whom our nation owes so much, and it's also important to Case IH to support an initiative that can help Australian farmers meet their labour needs and increase the staffing pool for the agriculture sector, which, like so many industries at present, is struggling to find the number of workers it needs," Pete said.
The goal was for the program to continue through Longerenong College, David said, and expand further in years to come, with the Operation Grain Harvest Assist website the place for prospective participants to register, and for farmers to register their interest in employing program graduates.
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