Is Agriculture ready to take over from mining as the sector for growth and opportunity? Will it ride the same roller coaster or learn from its lessons?
After spending last week in Muresk and now sitting in my accommodation in Newman, I can clearly see a tangible shift in two of our largest industries; resources and agriculture. The stream of optimism seems to be flowing away from digging up the earth to harvesting it.
Australia, largely led by the Queensland and the Western mining industry has experienced a recent period of unprecedented growth, but as Newton stated everything that goes up……
You don’t have to be working in the industry to know that we are experiencing a slowdown. You don’t even have to be in the industry to feel its effects. When working in our West Perth office I have personally noticed the lunch time crowds slowly diminish. The once vibrant cafes, alive with lines of punters crowding the doors in search of their next caffeine hit seem but a distant memory.
Now this could be attributed to people bringing instead of buying their lunch, but I fear there’s more at play. The slowdown in the mining industry is leaving its mark, from vacant cafes, offices, to an abundance of new job seekers. The amount of requests for RPL’s I have personally received in the last few months is insane, a clear sound that the times they are a changing- extra points for guessing whose lyrics I stole.
But change may be a good thing, for the agricultural and some other industries, it may actually be a blessing. Whilst many consider industries to “stand alone” they are all intrinsically linked by a number of factors. Recently we have seen the softening effect of two notable factors; the labour market and the exchange rate.
The rapid rise of mining drew from the job-market countless thousands of workers; the large demand for labour created a super micro-employment climate where mining-based roles were paying double their co-industry equivalent. For example a labourer on a farm could have expected an $40,000, where in mining the same skills could have demanded in excess of $100,000. It’s no wonder people left their respective fields to jump on the mining train.
Where one sector flourishes another struggles; most of the non-resources industries found it hard retaining staff in the midst of the mayhem, simply put it was uneconomical to match the salaries. Inflationary pressures bit hard on those not benefiting from the new found wealth.
Now things are winding down and returning to what many are calling a “sense of normality”. I actually believe there is going to be a bit more pain prior to the healing. Whilst the boom has lifted our economy, it has left many without the skills and knowledge required to perform in other roles. Many who would received large pay packets for unskilled work may find it tough as the power of selection returns to the employer.
Perhaps the silver lining lies in the hope that if agriculture is the next boom, there maybe a degree of synergy and relativity of portable skills gained from the mining boom providing a ready workforce to fuel this industry. This won’t just be needed inside the farmgate, but in a multitude of related industries, such as infrastructure, logistics, agribusiness even down to bio-security.
Will agriculture actually take off? Well just as with the mining sector years back the signs are there; strong demand, favourable economic climate and a ready job-market. And it doesn’t look to be limited to the next few years. Coupled with strong global growth and population numbers which are set to skyrocket in the next few decades, it’s a pretty strong bet.
Personally I just hope that we don’t face the same roller coaster ride as we have done with mining and develop a workforce for jobs which are no longer required. Planning for long term cross-industry skills are critical; communication, problem solving, management, project management and so on. I also hope that Australians and Australian businesses can have the foresight to invest in this industry creating a sustainable future for generations to come.
Now your turn
What skills do you believe will be in greatest demand to support this growing industry?