Shear of success

SHEAR LUCK: Young workers in the industry such as roustabouts Nathan Wardle and Erin Fielder will have their time to shine. There are more opportunities in shearing sheds.
SHEAR LUCK: Young workers in the industry such as roustabouts Nathan Wardle and Erin Fielder will have their time to shine. There are more opportunities in shearing sheds.

The timing has never been better for those who want to jump in and join the wool industry.

With a potential shearers' shortage looming due to COVID-19 restrictions preventing the usual shearers from enterin South Australia, Naracoorte's Glenn Haynes and his team at the Shearers Contractors Association of Australia have jumped into action to train workers to fill the gaps.

Mr Haynes said the association had been working with government departments to combat border closures, but when it looked like that wasn't going to happen, they changed gears.

"We've been looking at a short term solution to a long term problem - we've had a fair shortage for a long time now, going back 10 years, so we thought we'd tackle the long term problem and focus on getting a lot of people into our industry and promote how great it is," he said.

"It's an awesome industry - it's good pay, good travel. You get paid for what you do so the harder you work the more you get paid.

"There are not many jobs like that left, so we have been focusing on that.

"I look at it as a silver lining - our industry is really lucky that sheep don't know that there's COVID, they just grow wool and drop lambs regardless, so they still have to be shorn and the lambs are the same.

"We are looking at people who are not as fortunate as us, and lost their jobs, or have been put on hold for a period of months until things get back on their feet, to jump into this industry." He said it was a prime time for young shearers and wool handlers to get the experience they need.

"A lot of times, learner shearers and wool handlers don't really get a go, because sometimes it's easier to grab a guy from overseas and throw him on a stand because he is already up and going, but now it's a really good opportunity to throw learners on and by the time they get through this spring, they'll all be accomplished shearers and wool handlers so we will fill that void pretty quickly," he said.

"It's hard work, but it's good fun - for most people that get into it, it's hard to get them out of it, they all seem to end up back in the shearing shed somewhere down the line.

"All the farmers have been really good at adapting to what we have to do with COVID-19, all the new protocols and they are really keen to put young people on - I haven't had one farmer yet that has said they don't want a learner, they've all said they are happy to have one."

Normally, by this time of year, local shearing sheds would be full with workers from Victoria, holiday workers and shearers from New Zealand, but with strict border restrictions being enforced due to COVID-19, there is a gap which needs to be filled.

He said now was a great time for people to get into the industry, with good pay and plenty of opportunities available for shearers and other roles.

"The wool classers in South Australia have been let really let down since 2016, the class has only run one year back in 2019, Mr Haynes said.

"It was cancelled again this year, and we need to be training about 20 wool classers a year, so we are a long way behind the eight ball, and we had to come in and hit the ground running.

"We can take some young people or people even people that are older, they go to a novice shearing school, learn how to wool handle, etc, for a week.

"All us trainers love doing it, we have our heart in it and we work very closely with Australian Wool Innovations.

"It will cost them $175 for the week and we supply everything and then we have the advantage that we do have Australian Wool Innovations.

"This organisation will follow them up and give them extra support and help get them settled into the situation. It is a great system, you can go from never working in the industry to going in as a wool handler, who is earning $240 a day.

"It's attractive to young people doing a gap year or if you've just lost your job and want to fill in time for three or four months, it's a good opportunity to get in there."

Despite the difficulties, Mr Haynes was confident the shearing work would get done in time.

"We'll get all the sheep shorn. It might take a bit longer that normal, or a few things might change around, but they'll all get done." Jason Letchford from SCAA said training in the industry was never better than it was right now.

"As far as shearer and wool handler training goes, across the country, but especially in the southern states it is currently the best it's ever been in the history of the industry, in terms of government support and opportunities to educate and train people in the industry," he said.

To get involved in the training, ring the Wool Hotline on 1300 787 984 and they will direct you to the nearest training facility.