AWI improver school gets young guns up to 100-a-run and a stand in WA shearing teams

Headshot of Shannon Verhagen
A group of young shearers recently completed a two-week AWI Improver School, where the team of young guns honed their skills and built their speed shearing Bowelling farmer Tony Sloan's (inset) sheep, with AWI trainer Paul Hick (pictured) running the course.
Camera IconA group of young shearers recently completed a two-week AWI Improver School, where the team of young guns honed their skills and built their speed shearing Bowelling farmer Tony Sloan's (inset) sheep, with AWI trainer Paul Hick (pictured) running the course. Credit: Shannon Verhagen/Countryman

An idea sparked by a South West shearing contractor to get the next generation on stands has seen 10 young guns hone their skills and build their fitness and speed under world-class trainers.

It comes as the industry grapples with nationwide labour shortages ahead of the summer-autumn run.

The AWI Improver School saw a group of hand-picked 16 to 19-year-old shearers clip 2500 sheep on-farm in McAlinden in December, giving them a taste of life with a handpiece.

In the first week, they went from 10-a-run to 40 before notching up 60 to 100-a-run by the end of the course.

Get in front of tomorrow's news for FREE

Journalism for the curious Australian across politics, business, culture and opinion.


It was the brainchild of Boyup Brook shearer Dave Johansen, who has ties to AWI through Rylington Park’s shearing schools.

He could see some of the State’s up-and-coming shearers were not getting a chance on the stand and wanted to change that.

“What was annoying me was some of these kids who do the training go straight back to their contractors and they get put back on the wool press as they aren’t fast enough or not fit enough to get a stand,” he said.

“When you’re a shearer it’s a lot of physical work and you need that fitness.

“Some of them are very good in what they do, whether it’s pressing or another job in the shed, and the contractor can’t afford to give them a handpiece.

“But then they don’t get the opportunity to build that fitness.

“I thought ‘how about we run two weeks work for the kids’. They get paid for the work, it’s a great incentive, their bodies are set and their techniques are getting better.”

He called up Bowelling farmer Troy Sloan, who jumped at the chance to be involved, giving the young team the opportunity to shear some sheep he had recently purchased on a property in McAlinden.

“I was happy to give them a go,” Mr Sloan said.

“There’s no point training them up and then them leaving the industry.

“There’s a lot of older faces in the sheds these days.”

The initial plan was 600, but Mr Sloan said it got “bigger than Ben Hur” and they ended up shearing about 2500 over the two weeks.

They rotated between one of the six stands, roustabouting and pressing under the watchful eye of AWI shearer trainer Paul Hick — who hand-picked the students earlier in the year — while AWI’s Rebecca Thomson classed the wool.

The group hailing from Wagin, Boyup Brook, Kojonup, Katanning, Albany and Narrogin then split their earnings, walking away with $1700 each after-tax.

Throughout the course, the group had visits from AWI shearer trainer Steve Thomson and industry stalwart Peter Black, who coached the national shearing team and is the father of world champion Dwayne Black.

Mr Hick said it was fantastic to have them there and the young lads were excited to meet them.

“Peter Black’s a living legend, so they got to ask a lot of questions,” he said.

All of the participants are in teams but two are now on their own stand, including Kojonup young gun Randolph Tepaire McAlister, 17, who Mr Johansen hired for his own team.

It was a real community effort to make it a reality, with local farmer Harvey Dickson providing the group accommodation, Sandy Pearsall cooking all of the sweets, snacks and lunches, Mr Sloan providing the sheep and Laurie Shine providing the shed and gear.

“We have a tremendous amount of gratitude for everyone that helped,” Mr Johansen said.

The school was funded by AWI, which also provided each student with a $2000 shearing kit they could take with them to start work.

Mr Sloan hoped more contractors would give young shearers a chance on a stand so the industry could retain labour, particularly in the current climate where border closures have seen the available pool of workers dwindle.

“The sheep came out in pretty good condition — I was happy,” he said.

“It’s good to see AWI funding the furthering of the industry.

“I would encourage others (farmers) to volunteer if asked and I would consider doing it again.

“It would be good to see some contractors giving them a go too. That seems to be where the link in the chain is missing.”

Mr Hick said there was huge interest from those wanting to learn — with 30 applying for 18 spots in one of December’s schools — but because of labour shortages, many contractors could not afford for their team members to spend a week or two away.

Four more shearing schools will be held at Rylington Park before winter, with hopes another two improver schools will be held on Boyup Brook farms in February and August or September.

Get the latest news from thewest.com.au in your inbox.

Sign up for our emails