On course to beat shortage – Employers take action to find shearers

WHILE shearer shortages around the state are weighing heavy on the minds of many graziers, there is significant movement in the grassroots to solidify the industry’s future.

Ben Grubb, who is President of Primary Employers Tasmania (PET) and a farmer from Breadalbane, spoke to the Tasmanian Country on the steps being taken to assist the industry.

“PET identified in early 2020, prior to the Covid lockdowns, that there was going to be a shortage of shearers in about two-to-four years’ time.
“We started the process then, attaining funds to attract shearers into the Tasmanian wool industry, only for Covid to hit and really exacerbate the problem.”

Part of the project was developing the Wool Industry Workforce development project, spearheaded by Locky West.

“When we started this project in early 2020, our first stage was to get around as many people in the industry as we could to identify what they considered as key issues,” Mr West said.
“What they came back with was for an increase in competency-based shearing and wool-handling training and that there was room for improvement in shearing shed conditions.”

The first stage was to address the shed conditions, which is where the Shearing Shed and Shearer Safety Awareness Sessions came in to play.

Hosted in partnership with Safe Farming Tasmania and the Australian Wool Industry, the info sessions were held across Tasmania through last year, giving wool growers an idea of what safety measure were available to them.

“From those sessions, we had hundreds attend and we’ve had huge amounts of improvements across the state, upgraded facilities and equipment. From that perspective, I think we’ve been really successful.”

As for the training space, there is a lot of movement.
“Over 40 people have so far completed the competency-based shearing and wool-classing courses. We’re currently getting more applications than we can take.
“In the February school this year, we had so many applicants that we ran a second school. Our next school is set to run in July, and that’s three-quarters full.”

Mr West said the positive responses from the courses was building promise for the future of the courses.

“We’re advertising well, we’ve had good applicants and people are enjoying them. When we started, we wanted a minimum of 20 shearers and wool-classers to come into the Tassie workforce, at this stage we’ve passed 42 in 18 months.
“Our next step is developing a program to get on top of the in-shed, on-site training, to help the graduates get all the support they need and to get into the workforce.”

News of graduates coming through is good news to the ears of many smaller wool growers, who struggle, especially when it comes to attaining the service of shearers.

Jacqueline Shipton is a fifth-generation farmers in Pipers Brook runs around 60 head of sheep and echoes this.

“Our last shearing was in January, it probably took us six weeks to secure someone,” Ms Shipton said.
“We tried multiple shearers, some we’d used before and they were just too busy. We tried new shearers, one promised to attend and just didn’t turn up.
“We have the shearing shed, we have a machine, we’re only missing a shearer and a handpiece. “We’ve done it really, really tough.”

Mr Grubb said the problems are not unique to Tasmania, and solutions to the shortage are in the pipeline.

“This shortage of shearers is not isolated to Tasmania, and it’s not isolated to the shearing industry too. The world is short of labour, from Covid and the supply chain impacts,” Mr Grubb said.
“We’ve got to remember, these last two years have been difficult for everyone, shearing contractors need to be thanked for attempting to get to everyone, it’s not an easy task.”