South-west dairy industry crying out for workers

Bessiebelle dairy farmer Will McDonald has had trouble finding workers to take a job milking on his farm. Picture: ROB GUNSTONE
Bessiebelle dairy farmer Will McDonald has had trouble finding workers to take a job milking on his farm. Picture: ROB GUNSTONE

YOUTH unemployment in the region is at record levels yet the dairy industry is struggling to find workers.

Frustrated farmers have even offered free housing as well as training and other perks but still can’t find a reliable workforce.

This week in The Standard’s On The Land, seven jobs were advertised.

When we spoke to the farmers who placed the ads yesterday, only one had received a positive response.

Despite the high rate of unemployment, some farmers agree that a number of jobseekers are not willing to get their hands dirty.

The south-west youth unemployment rate ranks as the worst in the state, rising from 14.5 to 18 per cent over the past three months.

Bessiebelle dairy farmers Will and Melissa McDonald are offering a three-bedroom home rent free to a suitable employee, however, they have had little interest in the job.

Mr McDonald said he could not understand why people were not taking up the opportunity.

“Come out and learn the ropes, live in the house rent free, earn a wage and set yourself up for the future,” he said.

“I’m more than happy to teach anyone who is willing to learn, but I’m not going to waste my time on someone who is not.”

Mr McDonald advertised for a worker in February with one man showing up for two days.

“On the fi rst day he was sitting down hosing out the dairy and the next day he asked about his pay,” he said.

Mr McDonald said all workers were paid fortnightly, which had been discussed before the man took on the job.

“He never returned after the second day,” he said.

Dixie dairy farmer Shaun Kissick placed an ad for a farmhand and said he had only received one text message, requesting further information about the position.

“I had one text message last night,” he said.

“I think a lot of people think that they are applying for an unskilled labouring job and don’t realise the depth and opportunities available in the dairy industry.”

Mr Kissick said he was keen to employ a farmhand who in the future could take on further responsibilities, including managing the farm.

I’d be happy to teach them,” he said.

“It’s a fantastic job. It’s a shame people don’t recognise the rewards that can be reaped.”

Jennifer and Kevin Ferrari run 800 cows at Chapple Vale, south of Simpson.

They advertised for a full-time dairy farm worker and received a couple of calls.

Mrs Ferrari said although there had been some interest, several appointments with potential employees had been missed.

“Some people have made appointments and haven’t turned up,” she said.

Mrs Ferrari agreed it was getting harder to find reliable workers on the farm.

“They ring up with their resumes and then they don’t turn up,” she said.

“They are not keen to put in the hard yakka and do a bit extra.”

Winslow dairy farmer Jock O’Keefe said better pay and hours would attract

more workers in the dairy industry. 

“The image of dairy farming is early morning and long days,” he said.

“It doesn’t really appeal to a lot of people. If we had a bit more confidence we could pay better and it will attract more people.”

Mr O’Keefe said workers in a supermarket would be paid more than younger milkers or farmhands.

He said he hasn’t had a problem employing workers in the past, but there has been a few issues this year.

Cathy McCosh said she had a great response to her advert, with about 15 people showing interest.

Cooriemungle farmers Chris and Julie Vogel have 1500 cows across two dairies and have struggled to fi nd local workers for the past 20 years.

“We tried to employ local people for a very long time and became very frustrated,” Mr Vogel said.

They now employ 12 international workers full-time.

“There is no alternative for us,” Mr Vogel said.

“If we want to get our cows milked we

have to employ overseas workers. It’s a shame because we get a bad name, but we just can’t run our farm on local labour because we can’t get enough people to come and work for us.”

WestVic Dairy board chairwoman Lisa Dwyer encouraged jobseekers to consider careers in the dairy sector.

“Historically the dairy industry hasn’t had a good reputation as a career as opposed to other sectors, which is somewhat misinformed,” she said.

“When people talk about the dairy industry it’s not just about putting cups on cows. Working within the dairy industry is one of the areas where you can use a broad skill set.”

Mrs Dwyer said job opportunities are available in the processing sector, agronomy, nutrition and animal health fields.

“People can start off as a school leaver and progress through,” she said.


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