Farmers are increasingly reliant on contractors and advisors to provide specialist skills. The rapid change of agriculture because of technology, market pressures and environmental pressures has led farmers to increase their need for advisors to provide technical advice in innovating and adopting new ways to improve their productivity and profitability.
In order to support farmers to perform better, we need to ensure that the extension officers and advisors are equipped with the skills to perform their role. QFF and the Queensland Government have partnered to address this need. Over 90 reef extension officers and advisors are attending specialist workshops being delivered up and down the Queensland coast.
The workshops were delivered at Innisfail, Ayr, Mackay, and Rockhampton. With one workshop to be delivered at Bundaberg early December. The two topics being covered: designing extension programs and facilitating workshops, were identified as high priority training areas. This work is being done in response to feedback from extension officers, the Great Barrier Reef Taskforce recommendations report, and the outcomes of the Review Report – Practice change, Education and Extension in Reef Catchments Project.
These training activities aim to build the capacity of extension officers and advisors who provide support to the many primary producers in the Great Barrier Reef catchments. Instead of a traditional workshop format, the workshops were customised to the needs of each group of participants and delivered in an engaging and interactive manner by Derek Foster, a seasoned extension professional. To help consolidate the learning, participants create a personal action plan which outlines how they will apply their learning in their workplace. Ongoing support is provided for 60 days, and participants join a webinar at 30 and 60 days afterwards to share the progress of their learning plans.
Fitzroy Basin Association’s Project Officer Jill Lyons who was involved in the latest training has commented on the value of continuously improving extension skills. “Working in an ever-changing environment means staying up-to-date is incredibly important.” says Jill.
“Often we get so focused in our area of expertise we can forget not everyone has the same background as us. The workshops provide an opportunity to take a step back, look from the outside in, and take time to fine-tune our extension skills which ultimately helps everyone involved.”
All the workshops were quickly filled, demonstrating not only the importance of the topic areas, but the enthusiasm of those involved.
Terri Buono, Extension & Education Coordinator for the Burdekin (Department of Agriculture and Fisheries) co-organised the event and commented on the value of the workshops and the need for ongoing training for Extension staff. “The feedback we received from participants was that the workshop was very relevant and helpful and attendees highlighted the need for more of this type of training to be provided to extension officers”.
Ms Buono mentioned that the workshops covered a gap in the training system “many universities and other training providers no longer provide this type of training to students and we find that experienced officers also do not have access to this type of training”. Ms Buono stated that participants have increased their confidence “the workshop provided confidence in developing a framework to design, plan and implement more effective workshops and extension activities”.
These workshops are a first step towards ensuring that advisors have the needed skills to provide timely advice to producers. There is a need to continuously invest in training across the industry including advisors and extension officers. The Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance will continue to support initiatives that address the needs of the industry.