Agriculture students prepare for the workforce

University of Melbourne second-year agriculture students attended a series of industry events recently, allowing them to explore the careers they will soon enter.

The students discussed the professional and scientific opportunities a Bachelor of Agriculture makes available to them, developed an idea of the jobs best suited to their interests and strengths, developed their professional identities and prepared to kickstart their future careers.

This included an address from keynote speaker Caroline Welsh, chair and director at Birchip Cropping Group (BCG), who commenced her tertiary education with a Bachelor of Agricultural Science at the University of Melbourne. The University now offers a Bachelor of Agriculture and a Bachelor of Science (major in Agricultural Sciences).

Prior to joining BCG, Ms Welsh worked for the Victorian Department of Primary Industries for almost 20 years.

For the first 10 years, she served as a Project Officer and Project Coordinator, a role similar to those other agriculture alums have moved into recently. As an Industry Development Coordinator, she helped to develop a fresh stone fruit export group of 26 agribusinesses, then trialled innovative methods to achieve on-farm practice change at a regional scale.

Students can take subjects in agribusiness and practice change in the Bachelor of Agriculture and focus on these via specialisations in the Master of Agricultural Sciences. They also explore these and other big challenges in the Bachelor of Agriculture capstone subject, Professional Practice for Agriculture.

An industry panel provided further guidance to students on planning their career, with a variety of speakers at different stages of their careers, including Melbourne alums:

  • Lok Chow, Agronomist at Tripod Farmers. (Bachelor of Agriculture, 2016, and current Master of Agricultural Sciences student)
  • Vivienne McCollum, Principal Consultant at AgServices
  • Ian Sawyer, Partner and Ruminant Nutritionist at Feedworks
  • Dr Alison Van Eenennaam, Cooperative Extension Specialist in Animal Genomics and Biotechnology at the University of California, Davis. (Bachelor of Agricultural Science, 1987).

Students learned about the wide variety of career opportunities available in agriculture, ranging from scientific research to agricultural finance to on-farm plant and soil health advice and built networks with professionals from an array of industries and organisations and gained first-hand information about the jobs and career programs available from them.

Bachelor of Agriculture degree co-coordinator Associate Professor Ros Gall says the variety of speakers and emphasis on interpersonal skills reflect what employers seek in new graduates, as well as the range of roles students enter following a Bachelor of Agriculture.

“It’s very common for agribusinesses to get in contact with us, seeking final-year students who might be suitable for a role they need to fill, or for students to receive interest from businesses where they have interned or whom they’ve met with during their studies,” Associate Professor Gall says.

“The variety of employers where our graduates gain roles speaks to the nature of agriculture in Australia. For people who have an agriculture degree, it’s a scientific field in need of smart young professionals that can contribute to varying roles across the value chain including research, technology and consulting services.

“Our recent graduates have started their careers at scientific organisations like state and federal agriculture departments, CSIRO and Swan Hill Chemicals, rural banks like Rabobank and the agricultural finance department of NAB, professional farm services organisations including Elders and Nutrien Ag Solutions. That’s alongside on-farm roles with Warakirri Asset Management, agricultural research roles with Kaylex and animal nutrition with Rivalea.”

Students also undertook a career-profiling session with TwoPointZero, where they received a career assessment to find out their personality types and the jobs that most suit them. A ‘standing out in the crowd’ session with experts from the Victorian College of the Arts showed students how to best use their posture and voice in a networking or professional setting.