Young leaders of the future made up the first industry team to be involved in the prestigious National Merino Challenge, another innovative first for Australian Wool Network (AWN).

The two-day event draws secondary school and university students from across the nation where they test their skills and knowledge in seven wool and sheep industry focused activities including merino fleece, production, breeding and selection.

Furthering its commitment to provide its staff with a thorough and complete understanding of the wool and sheep industries, AWN provided David Mahilraj (Bathurst), Kate Methven (Horsham), Emma Turner (Launceston), Ally Colwell (Sydney) and Luke Darby (Sydney) with the opportunity to attend the event held at the Sydney showground.

AWN Central West NSW regional manager Brett Cooper was the team’s trainer and mentor and couldn’t speak highly enough of the event.

“The board and management of AWN wanted to give our staff some exposure and experience in these activities and give them the opportunity to meet other young people and professionals in the industry,’’ he said.

“This is a great learning environment and offers one component of our aim to expose staff to all facets of the sheep and wool industry as there are so many directions to aim for within the industry.

“It is great to have them out of the office, training them and taking them to these events where they can meet other like-minded people.’’

AWN is the first company to have an industry group involved and while not competing, Mr Cooper said participation had proven invaluable.

“AWI are to be applauded for running this fantastic event and it would be great to see an industry section included as others have indicated they are very interested in being involved,’’ he said.

AWN team member Emma Turner, who is based in Launceston, said she had gained a lot from participating in the event.

“It provided me with the opportunity to see my strengths and weaknesses and what I need to work on. It was also a great opportunity to talk to other young people from secondary schools and universities wanting to get into the industry and be able to give them some advice based on my experiences,’’ she said.

“It was a great all-round experience both on the practical skills side of things as well as networking.’’

Ally Colwell, who joined the AWN team in March, was also full of enthusiasm saying the event was a great opportunity for everybody in the wool industry.

“It was a great hands-on experience which allowed me to gain extra skills which I can put into practice moving forward. It is also a wonderful opportunity to network for people in the wool industry or those wanting to move into the industry,’’ she said.

“The merino challenge is an event for both secondary and tertiary students to attend which will give them a great insight into all aspects of the wool industry.’’

Horsham-based Kate Methven is an old hand at merino challenges but says there is always something new to learn.

“This was my third merino challenge and it was really, really good. There was lots of networking and the chance to see others’ perspective on the industry and the direction it is taking,’’ she said.

“I would love to see the organisers incorporate an industry section in the competition as I believe it is all very worthwhile.’’

A supporter of the National Merino Challenge since the first competition in 2013, AWN is looking forward to incorporating the annual event into their career development calendar for young team members.