In northern Victoria, the local TAFE college is riding a wave of interest in agriculture courses from the region’s women. ANDY WILSON has the story.

Marshal Jacobs is such a non-stranger to gender diversity that he barely notices there is an issue any more, possibly because there isn’t.

He makes the commute from Rochester to Shepparton to teach vocational education in agriculture at GOTAFE and only when the topic of gender ratio is raised does he ponder.

Yes, he notices he teaches a 22-strong class comprising only three males, and another class of eight girls was on his watch as they toured the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo on April 12, but to him gender is no longer of importance.

The reason is — paradoxically — because it is important, and when pressed he reels off the reasons.

“Women are good on the equipment, they do the job well, they are organised, they’re clean, they’re tidy, they don’t break things,” Marshal said.

“My son works in agriculture, and I use him as a great example.

“He is working in broadacre cropping, and his supervisor is a female, and the women are driving the big machinery — like in the mines.

“It is not a physical game any more so we can have anyone run anything.

“It’s the ‘smarts’ that’s needed and, let’s face it, women have that over men in spades.

“There is absolutely, one hundred per cent, no glass ceiling in ag.”

Taking a break from selling the GOTAFE story at the Seymour Alternative Farming Expo were three of Marshal’s students more than willing to share their enthusiasm for their choices.

Arabella Green, Jessica Hunter and Samantha Ward find the balance of a full day of practical work on campus and a half day of online lessons perfect for their learning.

Samantha works in retail but looks forward to her Thursdays.

“We have prac on campus with tractors, cattle and sheep and I would not be able to do it without that hands-on exposure,” Samantha said.

“It’s a real experience.”

Jessica was cautious at first.

“I thought it was going to be male dominated — I was a little apprehensive — but then I rocked up and it was all women,” she said.

“Oh, and Marshal.”

Arabella said there was no hurry in selecting a career path.

“It’s too early to specialise,” she said.

“This gives me a chance to explore.”

Marshal conceded that the gender change was still “transitional”.

“I think it is the new generation and even though we are still in an industry with no glass ceiling, some farmers may still think there is and we have to change that rhetoric — turn it right around.

“Gender is not an issue any more, so just be smart about it.”

GOTAFE youth engagement officer Madison Whiteman said the growth in enrolments was due to the widening of the eligibility net for vocational education funding and agreed the influx of female students was “fantastic”.

“It is a real good proportion of males to females as a ratio in agriculture classes which we haven’t seen in previous years,” Madison said.

“When it comes to ag and horticulture, gender balance is becoming a natural part of the industry.”

Victorian Agriculture Minister Ros Spence said the future of agriculture relied on recognising the full potential of women.

“That is why we are prioritising creating pathways for women and girls to access information and skills relevant to careers in agriculture and STEM,” she said.

“Working alongside rural women to achieve this ensures we can respond to the barriers that women in agriculture experience, as part of our larger commitment to the continued growth of the industry.”

Madison said agriculture was one vocation area which had become stigma-free.

“People now grow up with this lifestyle, it’s very commonplace now and people don’t bat an eyelid at (agriculture) being an ambition of any young person in the region.

“If we were looking at a trade or community services and health, I would say those two areas are still split by gender.

“There is still a big stigma when I work with young people in secondary schools, about pathways in providing care — care is a female-led role — and although I still see males who are well suited to it they steer clear because of the perception of other students.

“If you want to try something, try it, and don’t make decisions based on your peers.”

Madison said any career stigmas were addressed with taster days and industry immersions.

“Students can try-before-they-buy while they are still young and are still making decisions because it’s always valuable to know that you don’t like something as it is to know that you do.

“To have that experience before you leave school and not spend your own time and money finding that out is an excellent thing.

“Make decisions around the things you enjoy doing because inevitably you will be more successful in in the long run if you’re invested.”

More than a career choice

The path can be more than just vocational, and Arabella Green goes deeper than just discovering the GOTAFE agriculture certificate course was academically well suited to her at this stage of her life.
“It’s a personal journey,” she said.
“It has put me on the right path in life, which is better than what it was.”
GOTAFE manager of student growth Rayen Molina said her role was to help students make the best career for themselves.
“For us it is about guiding students, not putting them in any boxes but to guide them,” Rayen said.
“Whether that be career advice or making the best decision for themselves.
“That’s where we focus our energy on.”
Arabella is one of many students taking advantage of the new eligibility allowances for securing government funding but said there was more to her decision than just that.
“I didn’t feel I really fit in academically in school, and this course — with the funding and the people — gave me the chance to understand myself and what I could be and what I will do.”