Australian Wool Innovation’s $10.5m plan to focus on high school students, trade days and wool handlers

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Cally DupeCountryman
AWI wool harvesting and development program manager Craig French.
Camera IconAWI wool harvesting and development program manager Craig French. Credit: Bob Garnant/Countryman

Australian Wool Innovation plans to spend $10.5 million on nationwide shearer training during the next three years, with a new focus on targeting high school students, holding open trade days and hosting wool-handling-specific training days.

AWI wool harvesting and development program manager Craig French said a big part of the program would focus on WA, with plans to increase funding in shearer training for the State by 25 per cent.

“We need more novice schools in WA, but we also need to be supporting that with in-shed training,” Mr French said.

“There’s a lot of work to be done on where we find new entrants. I personally believe . . . we have to look locally, we have to invest in a long-term plan to have local people shearing.”

AWI’s WA shearing goals for 2022-23 include holding six, five-day novice schools at Rylington Park, one five-day school with the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development, a 10-day school at Esperance, and six five-day improver schools (two held at Rylington Park).

AWI has facilitated nearly 4000 shearer and wool-handler training days for more than 17,000 people since 2015, including novice shearing, improver and professional shearing, shed skills, and more.

More than 3600 of those training days were held in WA, with 3939 shearers and wool handlers trained in WA in 2021-22.

The breakdown of the WA participants included 2455 shearers, 1012 novice shearers, and 472 woolhandlers.

Mr French said AWI’s new national wool harvesting strategic plan had six areas of focus: high school workshops, wool handling and shed-hand workshops, novice schools, in-shed training, improver schools, and industry workshops.

AWI also plans to hold or attend 10 open or expo “try a trade” type days, to promote shearing, and hold 15, three-day wool-handling workshops to increase shed skills.

Mr French said AWI was following a mission statement: “For AWI to offer a pathway to enter the industry, provide a structured and accountable training mode, attracting the next generation and retaining these new entrants for a sustainable wool industry.”

Its three-year targets include increasing novice school training by 15 per cent nationally, increasing training in WA by 25 per cent, holding more improver schools, introduce wool handling and shed-hand training workshops for the first time, hold an additional 50 per cent more training days in Queensland, and expand the number of high school workshops.

WA Shearing Industry Association president Darren Spencer welcomed the news, saying it was the first time industry had a long-term budget to work with.

“WA has always had more training than our percentage of sheep, but a lot of the problems in the past year have been around shed staff,” he said.

“The pathway into a shearing job has been as a shed hand, and starting as a wool presser and then heading into wool classing or shearing. So we hope that side of it will help to give people a taster.”

Mr Spencer was particularly enthusiastic about the plan to target more high school students.

The program will start with a visit to Lake Grace High School on August 12, with plans for other visits at Ravensthorpe and Esperance.

“These kids are supposed to stay at school until they finish Year 12, and there are a lot that don’t want to be there after Year 10,” he said.

“Some of these kids could get a job in the industry at 15 or 16. This is a great way for us to put our industry at the front for kids that aren’t going to go onto further education.”

Mr French said wool harvesting was the “driver” behind the organisation’s broader 2030 strategic plan, released last month.

AWI hopes to make the wool industry a $4.6 billion powerhouse by 2030, up from $2.7b in 2020-21.

“If we can’t get the wool off the sheep, we can’t market the fibre.”

Australia’s sheep flock is growing on the back of good seasons and good lambing rates, with predictions it will reach 76 million head by the end of the year — up 5.1 million sheep or 7.2 per cent.

The figure, contained in Meat and Livestock Australia’s July Sheep Industry Projections report, marks a year-on-year increase of 5.1 million head or 7.2 per cent — significantly higher than earlier predictions.

Mr French, who runs a small sheep farm at Dubbo and has held the role for two years, said AWI was keen to improve the quality of its shearing and wool-handling training.

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