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Developing the talent of red meat RD&A professionals
It is paramount that the Australian red meat and livestock industry continues to ensure that it has an adequate pool of highly skilled research, development and adoption/extension (RD&A) specialists dedicated to the industry. This is essential for the industry to deliver on the imperatives featured in the Meat Industry Strategic Plan (MISP 2020) and well into the future.
The RAD Meat Professionals project builds on the recommendations from the MLA Education Pipeline Review commissioned by MLA in 2013, which examined the investment, training and supply of scientists for the red meat industry and identified key recommendations to meet the RD&A needs of the industry.
The objective of the RAD Meat Professionals project was to create an enticing framework of activities to attract new entrants to the industry, and to build a culture that supports, nurtures and encourages RD&A professionals to make a long-term career commitment to the red meat industry. The primary outcome of the project is the design of a people strategy; the RAD Meat Professionals framework.
The methodology included a comprehensive desktop review of capacity building programs in the red meat industry in Australia and internationally and across other agricultural industries. It also involved extensive industry consultation with students, RD&A professionals working within the industry, producers as well as professionals who have left the industry. This was achieved via focus groups, a national survey (n=346), a panel session at the Australian Intercollegiate Meat Judging (ICMJ) conference and webinars.
Using the findings from the research, the key recommendation of the project is the need for a coordination role (supported by MLA) to facilitate the implementation of a 'people development strategy' for red meat RD&A, called the RAD Meat Professionals framework, which comprises four pillars:
1) RAD Meat Careers - an information pillar that showcases the range and diversity of careers in red meat RD&A that aims to attract students and professionals from other industries.
2) RAD Meat Ready - develops the skills, experience and capability of tertiary students interested in a red meat career.
3) RAD Meat Skills - builds the skills and capability of professionals already working within RD&A roles and higher degree students.
4) RAD Meat Connect - creates a collaborative, cohesive and supportive culture that connects the professionals and students across organisations, agencies and institutions
The review highlighted that there is a plethora of initiatives, opportunities and organisations, but there is no central point of information or support for professionals or students. There are also limited capacity building opportunities for red meat RD&A professionals, particularly with the ongoing trend of reduced public investment in RD&A and careers in the public sector.
Other agricultural industries such as dairy and cotton have a clearly defined people strategy for their industry. These strategies recognise the linkages between different sectors of the industry and different career stages thus have programs targeted at secondary and tertiary students, at the producer/grower level, through to industry leadership roles, as well as opportunities and initiatives for RD&A professionals. This helps to promote these industries as cohesive and connected with a wide range of opportunities for interesting and varied careers.
Industry consultation indicated that many students and professionals working in the red meat industry are choosing RAD careers based on their family background, an experience or an intrinsic passion for agriculture. However, early career professionals from the focus groups reported that they had found it difficult to identify clear career pathways from graduation across the range of careers in red meat RD&A.
Based on their experiences as early career professionals, participants in the focus groups highlighted the importance of encouraging students to be proactive in getting involved in extra-curricular activities such as the ICMJ, Future Farmers Network (FFN), agricultural interest groups, and breed/show societies to establish networks and to be exposed to opportunities for further skill development.
Opportunities for students to participate in real work situations during study are considered to be the best way to develop invaluable 'work-place' skills, contacts and confidence and also provide greater exposure to the range of roles available in RAD Meat.
A key challenge for the red meat industry is ensuring that the industry can attract students to undertake higher degrees such as Masters and PhDs and for industry to subsequently retain these researchers in red meat RD&A roles after they receive their qualifications. Findings show that incentives to undertake higher degrees must include competitive stipends including operational costs, but also opportunities for broader skill development, networking with other postgraduate students and engagement with industry.
For professionals working in RAD Meat roles, there was a clear demand for a consistent, coordinated approach to ongoing technical training and professional skills development. The value of this ongoing learning is reinforced by the willingness of professionals to invest their own time and resources into professional development. Implementing technical updates for RAD Professionals is a key initiative proposed under the RAD Meat Skills pillar.
Combining access to professional development and training with more flexible working arrangements including working from regional locations and opportunities for networking would improve the retention of industry's highly qualified professionals. These elements were clearly seen as more important than simply greater remuneration, however more consistency and reliability of operational funding is critical.
Professionals also want to feel like part of a recognised and respected industry profession and to be valued for their efforts in continued skill development. It is proposed that an annual awards process be developed to help promote the red meat industry as having a progressive and positive culture and to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of RD&A professionals.
A strong and consistent finding across the research was the value of networking, information exchange and collaboration both formal and inform across the variety of RD&A careers and at all stages of career development. Providing a national networking platform for all professionals engaged in red meat RD&A is a key element of the RAD Meat Connect pillar.
In conclusion, the implementation and promotion of the RAD Meat Professionals framework along with recommendations under the four pillars will help to attract new entrants to RD&A roles as well as providing development, support and encouragement for skilled RD&A professionals to have a long-term commitment to the red meat and livestock industry.
This page was last updated on 28/12/2017
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