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Jackeroo course puts youth on track...

ACTION LEARNING: Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg proves he has not forgotten shearing skills learnt in his youth.
ACTION LEARNING: Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg proves he has not forgotten shearing skills learnt in his youth. Toni Somes

ASK KATHY Latham about the value of a Darling Downs jillaroo/jackeroo program and she is disarmingly direct: "it didn't just change my son's life, it saved it".

It's an emotive statement her 21-year-old son, Josh Ray, agrees with quietly.

The young stockman has come a long way from the traumatised, suicidal youth he was when he started the Southern Queensland Institute of TAFE's jackeroo/jillaroo program at the start of 2013.

Today he is speaking out on behalf of the dozens of other disengaged young people, who have found their way into mainstream jobs, thanks to the innovative rural training program with a "hands-on, shirts-tucked-in" approach to learning.

The program, which equips graduates with a Certificate II or III in Animal Husbandry, has been offered to students since 2009, and is based on a 28ha farm, which forms part of the Warwick campus of SQIT.

They arrive here and it's like boot camp. We teach on the job. They tuck their shirts in and they listen or they are out. They shouldn't be downsizing the teaching staff here; they should be using this as a model.

One hundred full-time students and another 100 part-time students have graduated from the course over the past five years, with 50% finding employment in the agricultural industry.

But the future of the program is now under scrutiny after the dismissal of experienced teacher and well-known Darling Downs cattleman Duncan McMaster.

Speaking to the Rural Weekly, Mr McMaster said the job loss was disappointing, because it would be difficult to deliver the skills-based, practical course with less teachers and he was concerned his dismissal was part of a broader plan to shift the rural program online.

While SQIT director Trevor Schwenke refused to comment on individual employment issues, he said the organisation would continue to offer rural training programs.

"We have had great success with the delivery of a wide range of rural training programs across Queensland over many years and will continue to offer programs in this space in future where there is a sustainable demand from the rural industry," he said.

However, he said the structure of and methods of delivery for all programs in 2015 were yet to be finalised.

Mr McMaster said he understood the need for a course that produced relevantly-skilled young people for the agriculture workforce. But what was equally important, he said, was the success the program had changing the lives of troubled young people.

A well-known santa gertrudis breeder, Mr McMaster, who has juggled part-time teaching with property commitments, believes instilling in young people a sound work ethic, encouraging a positive attitude and "really listening" to them improves their self-respect.

"They arrive here and it's like boot camp. We teach on the job. They tuck their shirts in and they listen or they are out," he said. "They shouldn't be downsizing the teaching staff here; they should be using this as a model.

"We get kids who arrive here with no hope of ever getting a job and they leave here headed for the workforce. They want to ride motorbikes and learn how to drive a tractor and they know we are tough about punctuality and dress codes, but they also know it's because we care about what happens to them after here."

It's an active learning philosophy supported by local member and Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg, who left school at 15 to return to his family's sheep property at Inglewood.

Mr Springborg paid an impromptu visit to the jackeroo/jillaroo class last week to explain why he valued hands-on, practical learning.

"I taught myself to shear, because I had to. My first day I think I managed 42, but eventually I got up to about 100 head a day. But I think with some training I could have avoided some bad habits," he said.

Yet he's never doubted the value of lessons learnt on-the-rural-job.

"There is no doubt this type of learning environment works for many people, particularly those without a strong academic focus," he said.

"What we have found is state-run programs like TAFE have suffered in the past, because they haven't had the flexibility to respond to markets like non-government providers.

"But yes I do think there is a role for state-run education programs into the future; the rural industry is crying out for suitably skilled staff."

For Mr McMaster and his teaching peers, the situation is simple.

"We don't want more money or fancy new technology; we just want to be able to keep doing what we have been doing, because we know it's making a genuine difference."

Topics:  jillaroo sqit warwick