Regional Development Australia Central West is backing the call for quick and practical solutions as the agriculture industry faces labour shortages due to the effects of COVID-19.

Convening in Condobolin recently for the 51st General Board Meeting, RDA Central West recommended that school leavers could help mitigate the shortfall in the agricultural and seasonal workforce for the 2020/2021 season.

RDA Central West believes a concession could be applied to school leavers who work in an agriculture industry related job deemed by the Federal Government, from 1 October 2020 to 31 March 2021. School leavers who demonstrate employment could therefore be considered eligible for Youth Allowance if independent through work, and be able to access the support for the following year at university.

The National Training Wage Schedule rate 75% threshold could be maintained, although rather than the current 14-month requirement, applicants would be required to show it for a shorter period if they work in selected industries facing shortages.

Deputy Chair of RDA Central West, Reg Kidd, explained that this incentive could support regional students transitioning to university in 2021 rather than opting for deferment, and also help to balance the decrease in international enrolments.

“We see this as a win-win. It’s a good result for the higher education sector and the agriculture industry,” said Mr. Kidd.

“The current workforce shortage is a serious issue for primary producers and horticulturalists across the Central West and regional areas across the country and this proposal has the potential to help alleviate the shortfall.

“Under this change there would also be the added benefit of reconnecting the next generation with primary industries in our communities. In turn, this will result in exposure to a variety of career paths that students may be more receptive to.”

Mr Kidd added that the proposed changes to the requirements for Youth Allowance would also lead to a stronger appreciation of the agriculture industry, and its role in the national economy and Australia’s overall identity.

“The agriculture sector is the backbone of our regional communities and after years of drought, we are finally experiencing positive conditions.

“We are in for a bumper harvest, but we need to fill the gaps in the workforce and that’s why RDA Central West has formally written to the Federal Minister for Agriculture, the Hon. David Littleproud to update him on our proposal.

“This move has multiple benefits, one of which is another way the Federal Government can show their support for the agriculture sector at such a critical time.”