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The next generation of workers and leading cotton growers

Agriculture is not only a major contributor to Australia’s wealth but also a vital source of employment in rural and regional Australia.

Future employment will be impacted by a diverse host of factors ranging from the rise of digital technologies, climate change to demographic and social change and the agricultural industry is not immune from this changing workplace environment.

The industry faces many mega trends surrounding the changing nature of agricultural work. These include:

  • Australian agriculture has entered the digital revolution with new technologies holding the potential to move farm production to new levels of sustainability and profitability.
  • Climate change brings increased volatility and the need to do more with less resources. 
  • Societal demographics are shifting with an ageing workforce, and this is compounded by population decreases in areas of rural Australia. 
'What we do know is that being resilient, building good working relationships, being a continuous learner motivated to achieve mastery goals, and possessing strong career self-management skills ensure people in agriculture are prepared to meet whatever challenges the uncertain future brings.' Dr Nicole McDonald

The Australian Collaboratory for Career Employment & Learning for Living (ACCELL), a research group based within USQ’s Institute of Resilient Regions, is trying to find the answers to some of these pressing questions for agriculture.

Its goal is to ensure Australian agriculture attracts, retains and develops the capable people required for the sector to thrive now and into the future.
 
Dr Nicole McDonald has been working on a project supported by the Cotton Research and Development Corporation to better understand and plan for the future cotton industry workforce. 

This has involved a number of studies that have focused on the next generation of workers and leading cotton growers.

In her study of the next generation of workers and their supervisors, she found it was not only technical skills that were needed but a range of core abilities and transferable skills that impacted the productivity and efficiency of the workforce. 

'Agriculture has always offered people the opportunity to do meaningful work that matters to our society, but how they are doing that work is changing.'
Dr Nicole McDonald

These abilities and skills can be developed and are essential for a range of workers on farm and through the supply chain. In turn, this supports businesses to continually adapt and adopt new ways of working, or to craft new roles to create the future of work.
 
Along with her ACCELL colleagues, Dr McDonald has developed strong university-industry partnerships to ensure the research findings will have practical impact on solving these real-world challenges. 

Preliminary findings are already being used to inform workforce policy and strategic workforce development in the Australian cotton industry and the broader national agricultural workforce.

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