ABC Rural – NSW Country Hour

Ag Cap apprenticeship program swapping text books for paddocks to be expanded


Tommy Chesterfield leans against a pole, wearing a broad brimmed hat and a smile

17 yo Peel High School student Tommy Chesterfield works two days a week as a farm hand as part of a school-based traineeship

A program aimed at encouraging youths to build a career in agriculture locally is being expanded to other areas of New South Wales after successfully being trialled in the north-west.

Ag Cap is an agricultural apprenticeships scheme providing education and work opportunities for high school students.

The program was born from an ABC Heywire rural youth initiative several years ago.

Russell Stewart, chair Regional Development Australia — Northern Inland, said it was time to expand the program with the help of keen employers.

“Fifteen-year-olds going into year 11 get the chance to be employed one day a week,” Mr Stewart said.

“Mostly that employer will commit to keeping them once school finishes while allowing them to go onto further education and while in their own town and being supported by family.

“So they’re coming out of school more highly trained, [with] more skills and dirt under the fingernails.

“Our young people are growing with the business; they’re not work experience kids, they’re part of the business.

“By the time that student leaves school, they’re two years down the track trained by that organisation and they know the drill.”

“In towns like Narrabri, Moree and Gunnedah, we lose two full bus loads of quality people every year and 80 per cent never return,” Mr Stewart said.

“It’s unsustainable; we think country towns all around Australia have the same issue.”

High school student Tommy Chesterfield, 17, is taking part in the school-based program, working two days a week and attending Peel High School three days per week.

“I’m not much of a theory person; I never liked school as a kid [and] I’ve struggled a bit in my school years,” he said.

“But I’ve been quite successful in the past couple of years, so I’m quite happy to experience the school-based traineeship and hopefully it’ll go ahead well.

“I’d really like to be a stock and station agent and also have a couple of hundred acres to grow a few fat lambs, some cattle and a bit of pasture.”

Tommy’s boss, Daniel McCullough from stock and station agent Davidson Cameron, said it was important to encourage young people into agriculture.

“Like any apprenticeship, we gain work out of them in return for teaching them some skills,” Mr McCullough said.
“It’s good to try and promote young kids back on the land.”


POSTED TUE 12 JAN 2016, 11:45 AM AEDT