In agriculture, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to leadership development and capacity building programs.
I know of no other segment of the workforce which has access to the opportunities that we do.
This is the case now, more than ever, with a spate of new leadership programs funded through the $5 million Leadership in Agricultural Industries Fund.
However, where these existing programs fail is in the follow through.
Too often these opportunities are characterised by an intensive, immersive experience and then nothing.
This leaves us with young people equipped with new skills and knowledge but no clear pathway to deploy their skills.
In a recent article published in Stock & Land, Australian Dairy Farmers (ADF) president Terry Richardson said “we also need to seriously consider greater investment in leadership opportunities”.
Another leadership development program is not what Australian agriculture’s next generation needs. What my generation needs is pathways into leadership positions.
We need to stop trying to develop future leaders in discrete time periods through intensive leadership programs and start treating the development of our leaders as a long-term investment.
Key to this is developing initiatives with follow through, so the door doesn’t close when a workshop ends.
Young leaders need opportunities to put their skills into ‘practice’.
This could include invitations to sit on industry committees or boards, opportunities to participate in events, speak at conferences, participate in think tanks and shadow current industry leaders.
Navigating agriculture’s many lobby groups, peak bodies, advisory groups and committees is no easy task.
Young leaders need ongoing support from mentors, champions and coaches to navigate career and volunteer commitments and identify where to invest their energy.
Leadership is a journey.
Over time young people need to add new skills, so we must foster an environment where young people have ongoing opportunities to fill skills gaps.
Finally, industry needs to be flexible and cater to fluctuating demands of work, study, and family.
This and actively offering opportunities to ‘re-engage’ helps keep young people connected in the long term.
As a bonus, this creates a culture which fosters peer-to-peer mentoring.
While I see elements of this across agriculture, there is a distinct lack of initiatives which successfully tie everything together.
A notable exception to this is the Young Farming Champions (YFC) program, which identifies future influencers and equips them with the skills to step up into agricultural leadership positions and promote positive images and perceptions of agriculture.
Mr Richardson said “… we need to develop opportunities to engage the next generation and harness their passion”.
I believe the solution lies in facilitating pathways for greater involvement and youth representation at today’s leadership table.
Yes, each organisation could individually look at how to develop such a model. But consider this. Why reinvent the wheel?
Why take years developing and refining a new commodity specific program when there is a program spanning all commodities that’s already done the hard yards?
Isn’t investing in a program that’s been doing this for a decade already – the YFC program - a smarter choice?
What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.