RACE – Gippsland connects primary and secondary classrooms with the agricultural sector showcasing the use of technology across the supply chain to encourage students to explore their personal potential and career opportunities through hands-on, interactive and engaging, STEM-driven activities.
Victorian Department of Education and Training; GippsDairy; TAFE Gippsland; VegNET Project Gippsland; Baw Baw Latrobe, South Gippsland Bass Coast and Gippsland East Local Learning and Employment Networks (LLENs).
RACE – Gippsland is growing STEM and agri-tech awareness, confidence and skills for young people, while connecting them with diverse agriculture career paths, to drive increased adoption of technology across the sector as they enter the workforce.
Dr Amy Cosby
Jobs in agriculture go far beyond milking cows or planting crops – Australia's $66 billion agriculture industry needs passionate and skilled people to fill growing numbers of high-tech roles. CQUniversity's Agri-tech Education and Extension team is leading practical school outreach projects to connect and inspire students for future-proofed careers.
Rural Australia boasts some of the world's most diverse and productive primary industries. But many Australians, and especially young people living in those regions, are increasingly disconnected from the origins of their food and fibre.
Researchers at CQUniversity are working to engage regional students with emerging technologies and careers in the agriculture sector, with innovative and hands-on programs showcasing the central role that STEM plays in primary production.
The Raising Aspirations in Careers and Education – Gippsland (RACE – Gippsland) project connects primary and secondary classrooms with career role models and potential employers from agribusiness, farming and processing companies.
Partnering with industry and education bodies across the Gippsland region of Victoria, project lead and CQUniversity Research Fellow Dr Amy Cosby says she has seen first-hand the disconnect between young people and their local agriculture industry.
'People often think that it's only city kids that don't know anything about agriculture, but even in Gippsland with multiple ag industries in their backyard, students are still not aware of how their food and fibre is produced,' she explains.
'The questions we often get from students really highlight that they haven't developed a basic understanding of information about agriculture. For example, we have been asked by a student from South Gippsland, one of the largest dairy areas in Australia, when dairy cows get shorn.
'That may seem like a silly question, but it raises a serious issue that students are never connecting with a dairy farmer or anyone in the industry, to know simple facts like dairy cows don't get shorn.'
Dr Cosby, who is also a dairy farmer, says the disconnect was also creating challenges for industry.
'Our RACE – Gippsland industry partners are all dealing with skills shortages, and this project began with a comprehensive consultation about the prospects they could see for young people in the region, and how to get students aware of those opportunities, and excited about them.'
Launched in late 2020, RACE – Gippsland initiatives reached more than 800 primary and secondary students across the first half of 2021.
In primary and secondary classrooms, CQUniversity researchers deliver fun STEM activities as part of the Agri-tech Roadshow including:
- students using accelerometers and imitating cow behaviours, as other students track movement patterns via data livestreamed onto an ipad,
- comparing different potato varieties, cutting chips, and assessing which type generate the least waste, and are the most delicious,
- measuring sugar, protein, fat and calcium content of cow milk in comparison to alternatives such as soy, almond and oat.
RACE also facilitates industry-school partnerships where industry mentors visit classrooms and students visit agricultural workplaces, professional development workshops for teachers, online learning modules showcasing science and technology, and a Food and Fibre Social Entrepreneurship program where classes will design their own business to solve an issue facing their community.
With Victorian Government Department of Education and Training funding for three years, Dr Cosby hopes the project will encourage students to aspire to education and career pathways in the agricultural industry.
Importantly, the project is conducting research to measure the extent that project activities raise aspirations for further study and careers in the agricultural industry, and have increased the knowledge and awareness of how food in the region is produced.
Interviews with teachers and industry professionals will also provide an insight into how project activities influence and support the education and agricultural sector to work together to provide students with authentic experiences in the world of work.
As CQUniversity's Agri-tech Education and Extension research lead, Dr Cosby works across Australia, and across numerous agricultural sectors.
'CQUniversity's agricultural education and extension cluster is the only research team in Australia focused on increasing industry capability to adopt technology to make data driven decisions, but also attracting and retaining the next generation workforce and industry leaders,' she says.
Other projects include GPS Cows, a collaborative project funded by the NSW Department of Education bringing together researchers, industry professionals and educators in both Australia and the USA, to increase the knowledge and skills of high school students in emerging agri-tech, specifically tools and systems which provide animal location and behaviour data; and Educating Kids about Agriculture, a partnership between Commonwealth Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment, AgForce Queensland and NT Farmers Association, providing the opportunity for primary school students to learn where their food and fibre comes from, and the importance of agriculture to Australia by visiting farms.
Dr Cosby says increasing skills and knowledge for students also had flow-on effects for the current agricultural workforce.
'I really enjoy hearing from teachers that parents of students describe how excited their child was about the new technology they used in our activities, and now because of this their parent is considering using it within their business.
'Young people are excellent agents of change, and a really untapped resource for agriculture.
'Technology is poised to transform the way we produce food and fibre in Australia and across the globe. So, if we can give young people the confidence and skills to use agri-tech and get them passionate about it, they will be the catalyst that revolutionises the agriculture industry.'
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