There are just under 3,000 shearers across Australia but a huge demand for wool. (ABC News: Ryan Sheridan)
A massive boom in demand for wool but a national shortage of shearers has prompted the industry to take action and work out new ways to attract young guns.
The Australian wool industry is now funding a series of meetings to address the problem of declining shearer numbers as wool hits record high prices of about $2,000 per bale.
Charles Sciascia said while it is hard work, shearing has given him a lot in return. (ABC News: Ryan Sheridan)
Across the country, there are just 2,482 shearers, according to a 2016 report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which found that the number of shearers fell 13 per cent in five years.
At Roseville Park, a merino stud farm 40 kilometres south of Dubbo, a small team of shearers are bent double, hard at work.
Charles Sciascia is one of them, and has been shearing for 50 years.
The work has taken him all over the world, and while it has taken its toll on his back, it is a job he still loves.
” I like the lifestyle and the money…you meet a lot of good people, it doesn’t matter what age you are, you’re all on the same wavelength,” he said.
“I’m nearly at retirement age and can still gross $2,000 a week.”
Over the past five decades Mr Sciascia has noticed less young people taking on the job and puts that down to the simple fact that “it’s easier to sit behind a desk and press buttons”.
Nick Evison, 23, is the youngest working the shed, and although he has only been shearing for three years, he has already saved enough money to buy a house.
Aussies not stepping up
Nick Evison has saved enough money to buy a house just after three years of shearing. (ABC News: Ryan Sheridan)
Australian Wool Innovation, the national body that growers contribute to yearly, spends more than $2 million on training shearers and wool handlers as well as promoting the industry.
They have also funded a meeting to come up with ideas to get more shears in hands.
One idea some farmers are pushing to address the labour shortage is taking on more skilled immigrants.
Matthew Coddington,45, runs Roseville Park and says young Australians like Mr Evison just do not step up as needed.
“They really don’t want to do the hard work anymore, so we’ve got to replace it with the guys who do,” he said.
“We’ve got five Aussies, two Fijians, a girl from Belgium, a farmer from Uruguay and two New Zealanders.
“So it’s the United Nations helping us staff our shearer shortage.”
Inadequate shed conditions turn off workers
Wool Producers Australia CEO Jo Hall said work is being done with shearing contractors to improve standards in the sheds, which will hopefully halt the decline.
“That includes having a safe working environment and better conditions for shearers and shed staff,” she said.
Matthew Coddington (L) and Hilton Barrett say the hard yakka and sometimes poor conditions at sheds often put off workers. (ABC News: Ryan Sheridan)
Hilton Barrett was a shearer for 23 years before starting up a contract business employing shearers.
He runs teams from Forbes, to Dubbo and right up to the Queensland border, but said he cannot always keep the staff because of the conditions.
“They come for a little while and then they leave,” he said.
“Poor conditions are a huge problem.
“This shed is modern with flushing toilets and running water but some sheds have terrible conditions, no flushing toilet…no running water to wash your hands.”
He said solutions are needed as “we just can’t sit back and wait ’til we haven’t got enough staff to do these jobs”.
For Mr Sciascia, retiring is still a little way off, with the 63-year-old saying that will only be “when I fall over”.
That is good news for an industry needing to retain as many workers as it can.
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