As the weather begins to cool and you turn to your warm wool clothing, you may not be aware that the piece of wool on your back was shorn by a shrinking workforce.
An ongoing shearer shortage has left Australia’s wool producers desperate to find workers, but it is also leading some young people to consider a career in the notoriously tough industry.
A week-long course at Trelawney Station near Tamworth saw 16 teenagers learn how to use a set of shears.
Tamworth High School student Jada Cannon was one of them.
“I have found this week pretty good [and] it’s very exciting,” the 15-year-old said.
Ms Cannon said she enjoyed shearing and found it fun to do the “back of the bellies”.
“The way it [the industry] functions, the factories and how it goes through the processors, it’s been fascinating,” she said.
Looking to the future
Shearing alongside Jada was 16-year-old Peel High School student Riley Givney.
He said he was keen to take up shearing, even on a part-time basis.
“One day I would like to own sheep, and just to learn how to crutch and clean up the back of a sheep is good.
“I can say that I can crutch a sheep pretty decently, but I am still on the edge of being able to shear a full sheep.”
Teacher ‘blown away’ by interest
Peel High School agriculture teacher Ben Bowman said he had been impressed by the students’ enthusiasm.
He said they began to show even more interest as they gained confidence working with the stock.
“They want to learn the skills. They want to learn how to do it.”
Retention the big issue
Inverell-based shearer and trainer Ross Thompson was on hand to instruct the teenagers.
After watching Australia’s pool of shearers dry up over the decades, he was excited to see some young, keen, faces.
Mr Thompson believed training schools were helping to attract people to the industry but more needed to be done to retain shearers for the long-term.
“We lose a lot of our bread and butter workers to trades or mines and they don’t end up staying in rural areas,” he said.
“A lot of modern people aren’t used to going without wi-fi or phone service.
“I haven’t got a magic bullet answer but I think conditions, as well as respect and wages, are a part of that [answer].”
Mr Thompson also believed providing new shearers with consistent work close to home would help retain them longer.
“If they can find somewhere they can work at least nine months of the year close by to their families, that is another thing,” he said.