18 March 2023

The world is their oyster - trainees having a pearler of a time working in aquaculture industry

| Katrina Condie
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Girls with oysters

Skyla Robinson McEvoy and Lily Smith get their hands dirty at a Narooma oyster farm. Photo: Australia’s Oyster Coast.

Two school leavers have kick-started their careers in aquaculture, joining Australia’s Oyster Coast (AOC) farmers at Narooma for the next 12 months.

With recent extreme weather events affecting the oyster industry’s ability to harvest, AOC CEO Devin Watson said safeguarding the industry’s future by attracting and developing current and future generations of oyster farmers was more important than ever.

“As oyster industry custodians, we want to enable the next generation to become leaders in a more resilient oyster industry,” he said.

Skyla Robinson McEvoy and Lily Smith have joined the South Coast team as part of the National Farmers’ Federation AgCAREERSTART gap-year program that helps school leavers gain hands-on experience in the agriculture or aquaculture industries.

Skyla, from Greenleigh in NSW, and Lily, from Brighton, Queensland, have relocated to the coast and will spend the year working as oyster farmers at the Narooma farm. If they choose to stay in the industry, they will be offered permanent jobs with AOC that include gaining formal aquaculture qualifications.

Both girls are new to farming and are keen to see whether an aquaculture career is for them.

“I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do after year 12 but one of my teachers told me about the AgCAREERSTART program and I thought it would be a great opportunity,” Skyla said.

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Lily added: “I joined the program for some work experience in farming since I don’t have any background in it, and I was lucky enough to be placed on the South Coast for the year.”

AgCAREERSTART project manager Kayla Evans said the fully supported program gave 17 to 25-year-olds an opportunity to be paid while gaining on-farm experience and making industry connections.

On top of the skills and experience gained while working on the farm, participants will undertake farm safety training and gain access to a Training and Engagement Bursary to upskill themselves throughout the placement.

Ms Evans said applicants chose the farm type they’d prefer to work in and where in Australia they’d ideally like to go. A matching process was then undertaken to ensure participants were assigned to the type of farms that matched their interests and skills.

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Skyla and Lily chose aquaculture and were matched with Australia’s Oyster Coast, a new host farmer to the program.

“As host farmers, we get access to a national labour market of interested young people willing to relocate to regional areas to work on our oyster farms,” Mr Watson said.

“It also challenges us as an employer to look at our programs and how we contribute to the future of Australia’s agricultural workforce.”

With oyster production the main aquaculture activity in NSW, it provides significant economic value to small coastal communities. Recent DPI figures show that aquaculture contributes more than $80 million to the NSW economy and provides 1700-plus full and part-time jobs in regional areas.

South Coast farmers and young people can find out more via the AgCAREERSTART website.

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