An Australian start-up has devised a technology platform to help agricultural employers track and standardise employee skills and qualifications, with hopes to roll out the technology more broadly.
Ashlea Miles, a grains and wool/lamb farmer who co-founded Training Paddock, told My Business that the platform is designed to help employers compare and standardise on-the-job skills, particularly when looking to hire new workers, while also allowing workers to better present their skills to prospective employers.
“We’ve sort of endured this problem year-on-year, and it seems to be one of constant challenges not only to find people but to be able to assess what they can do, and therefore how much training I need to give them, where I start them in a position, whether I am liable in terms of safety [etc.],” she explained.
“We found that when we were trying to assess the candidates for our jobs, we’d have a real problem because there was no standardisation across their resumes, and half of the skills that they were listing were in various different terminology, and sometimes resumes were cut and pasted off the internet.
“We just couldn’t find a consistent ability to measure anyone and then place them in the correct format.”
Ms Miles said it was a Stanford thinking design course that sparked the idea to devise a solution for this problem, and that things have “had [their] own momentum”.
“At first I thought it must just be us... [but] the more that I exposed the problem and discussed it with other people, it seems that it is right across the industry. And really, it’s not just our industry — it’s the thoroughbred industry, the racing industry, has the same problem; and then all of the other industries [such as] skills in construction, in the building industry,” she said.
Nor is the problem isolated to Australia, but it appears in many other countries around the world too.
On-the-job skills just as important as tertiary studies
Building the technology platform has involved substantial testing and building over the past six months, with a preliminary focus on the agriculture sector.
“But we have a very clear vision that we will enter every other skills-based market and industry,” Ms Miles said.
Training Paddock is currently doing a soft launch, with a more public launch to be held down the track once the initial bugs and improvements have been ironed out.
According to the entrepreneur, employers will not only benefit in the short term from having a clearer assessment of job applicant skills, but future generations may find agriculture and other skills-based industries more attractive by having a better representation of their practical skill sets.
“I think that the pressure on the perception of agriculture and the fact that sometimes it’s quite negative, and that it’s seen as maybe a pay cheque here and there but not a really life-long career, that needs to change,” she said.
“We want to be able to introduce that perception... into the youth, and what our program and our platform does is that we’re capturing that youth between the 15 and 19 school-leaving age and we’re helping them choose agriculture and identify that the skills you develop in the real world and on the job are just as important as those degrees that you get in a formal situation.”
Preparing for drought-breaking rains
Speaking of the enduring drought in eastern Australia, Ms Miles admitted that her property is currently farming little more than “dirt”.
“It’s been a really tough couple of years... usually when we’re in full production, we can hire anywhere between two people right up to 20 people at different times throughout the year,” she said.
“When you’re trying to manage all their qualifications and their abilities in short periods of time and short bursts and in transitional labour, it’s very difficult.”
Yet in some ways, Ms Miles said that taking her agtech business to market now rather than when the industry is back in full production has some strategic merits for both her own business as well as primary producers as a whole.
“Yes, we’re in a situation of a drought at the moment and we’re probably not hiring and producing as much as we usually do. I think with a lot of our permanent employees, we’re holding onto them and we’re just finding ways to make sure that they’ve got their employment, but our seasonal and transitional work, the employment of those people, is definitely down,” she said.
“It’s a great fear of ours, as a whole industry, that when we do press go again and we do get that rain, we won’t have anyone to fill these positions. It’s a real concern.”
And, according to Ms Miles, this fear is held right along the supply chain spectrum, from farmer right up to government.
“We’ve really got to use this ‘treading water’ area of time to ensure we have the right tools there, and when we’re ready, we’ll press go again.”
She added: “This business, I would like to think, would have happened whether we were in drought or not. It’s a really deep desire of mine to make sure that the industry is as attractive to everyone and is as well represented as it deserves.”
Training Paddock was one of the agricultural and food start-ups to be developed under the guidance of growth accelerator Sparks Labs, demonstrating their innovative products developed as part of its recent Cultiv8 conference.
Another of the start-ups to appear at Cultiv8 was Sipp Instant, which was co-founded by actor Chris Hemsworth’s personal trainer, Luke Zocchi.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.