ACCELL April Meet-up

Kristin pic

In April, Kristen Lovric presented a proposal of her MPhD research to the ACCELL research team. Kristen’s research is focused on understanding the factors that attract and retain agriculturalists to jobs in Australia’s agriculture industry.

Kristen argued that individuals trained in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) play an important role in innovating more efficient and sustainable technology for use in farming. Kristen is interested in understanding motivation and engagement of these trained professionals.

First, Kristen investigates what leads these professionals to apply their skills in the agriculture field: Are agriculturalists driven predominately by their career interests?
Then, she identifies and explores their key occupational beliefs, experiences, supports, or barriers that help or hinder their workforce engagement: What role does their confidence at work play?

Veterinary Practitioners’ Career and Wellbeing

Working within the veterinary industry is not for the feint-hearted. Despite the perception that veterinary professionals get to play with cute puppies and kittens all day, the reality is very different.  Veterinarians endure high levels of work stress and their profession has one of the higher rates of suicide—about four times higher than the general population and twice as likely as other health professionals.  Put another way, this rate equates to roughly one every 12 weeks (Hamilton, 2016).  Despite the pressures of the profession, it can be as rewarding and personally satisfying as any other.  My research focused on developing supportive strategies for veterinary practitioners to enhance their work engagement and well-being.

Workplace Stress

Veterinary professionals are subjected to, amongst other things, abuse from clients, compassion fatigue, financial concerns, and the often difficult and emotional task of euthanizing animals (Hamilton, 2016). They are required to remain composed, client after client.  Imagine the distress of putting someone’s beloved pet to sleep in one consultation, only to step straight into another consultation with a difficult client who is abusive.  All this without so much as a five-minute break to catch a breath—they are expected to remain professional and composed without the chance to process what has just happened.

Workplace Culture

There have been many changes to the profession over the past 30 years, including gender shifts, and decreases in income levels and status (Macwhirter, 2002). Currently, there are many job vacancies advertised both within Australia and overseas, and seemingly not enough applicants to fill the places. With the demands of the job taking its toll on many practitioners, there is a need to focus on developing workplace strategies to retain them in the profession.  My research involved consulting practitioners to learn about strategies that practice owners may implement to support their staff.  Here are some of the recommendations from the research:

  • Acknowledge the “shadow side” of the profession. It is useful to have avenues for staff to openly discuss the stressors they are facing. Doing this can help to “normalise” the issues and prevent feeling ostracised or having the perception they are the only one feeling this way.
  • Provide information. Provide an EAP service or the contact details for a qualified and experienced counsellor or psychologist who is trusted to work with clients in this field.
  • Develop a culture of wellness. Make sure staff take their breaks. Taking regular breaks can be challenging due to the nature of the job, but breaks are essential for maintaining wellbeing.
  • Consider other incentives. Many veterinarians say it is not always about the money (from working overtime), and there are other things that can be more personally valuable to them (e.g., time off in lieu, a rotation system for working overtime, or small gifts that mean taking time out, such as a movie voucher).

Staff retention is more important than ever in the veterinary industry.  Fostering a healthy workplace culture is an integral part of organisational wellbeing. There is a need to reduce the stigma involved with practitioners speaking up and seeking help, so that they can receive the support they often need and deserve.  After all, veterinary professionals contribute a great deal to society and industries.

References

Hamilton, Nadine D. (2016). A psycho-educational intervention program for veterinary practitioners: learning to cope with being a veterinarian. [Thesis (PhD/Research)]

Macwhirter, P. (2002). A life course approach to veterinary science. Australian Veterinary Journal, 80(8), 454-455


About the Author:

Dr Nadine Hamilton is a psychologist who completed a Doctor of Education research degree that focused on developing strategies to enhance veterinary practitioners’ career engagement and wellbeing.

THE COTTON INDUSTRY – NEXT GENERATION

An innovative industry needs an innovative workforce.  With its reputation for advanced technology and continuous innovation, the Australian cotton industry draws on the expertise of a range of workers, including on-farm workers and contractors, agronomists and consultants, and research scientists, to name a few.  Yet, there is the very real potential for disruptive new technologies to demand changes to workforce profiles of the industry. This challenge raises the question, what is the expertise—the personal strengths, knowledge, skills—that the future workforce needs to maintain and improve the cotton industry’s strong production outputs in a competitive market?

ACCELL and CRDC postdoctoral research fellow, Dr Nicole McDonald, is researching and developing practical strategies to support the cotton industry to attract and develop the next generation of expert workers.  Your input to this R&D is valuable. Please take 5 minutes to register your interest via the link below:

https://tinyurl.com/y8pmb6r4

OPTIMISING TALENT

The first phase of Dr McDonald’s applied R&D project will identify:

  1. the career motivations of the next generation of workers,
  2. the workers who are set to innovate and capitalise on new technology, and
  3. the support and training needed to maximise the potential of these workers.

The findings of the R&D will inform evidence-based strategies for workforce management and development for cotton production businesses and, more broadly, the cotton industry.

CF - Cotton on_

Courtesy of Cotton Australia

Many cotton growers are advocates for attracting and developing new talent in the industry.  Excellent initiatives such as the Cotton Gap Year are proving very useful. There are obvious benefits to recruiting new talent and investing in training.  But, employing a relatively inexperienced recruit can be risky. And, transferring what is learned in training to enhance on-the-job performance can be challenging, particularly when new skills learned in training may be lost within a year if not put to good use. These are just some of the reasons why this R&D project is so important.

We want to support growers and other professionals in the cotton industry to ensure their future workforce is the best they can be, and that the cotton industry is the first choice for talented and capable young people making career decisions.

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK

  • Do you work in a cotton industry profession either on-farm, or related to farm production (e.g., growers, farm hands, agronomists, consultants, scientists, researchers, extension officers, contractors)?
  • Are you someone who has been working in the cotton industry for 5 years or less?
  • Do you currently employ someone who has been working in the cotton industry for 5 years or less?

If  you answered “yes” to any one of these questions then we want to hear from you.  It takes only 5 minutes to register your interest via the link below:

https://tinyurl.com/y8pmb6r4


CRDC_logo

This project is supported by the Cotton Research Development Corporation (CRDC).

Writing and Telling a Career Story

Stories are universal. Cultures include stories; cultures are stories-incomplete stories, always evolving. Every person has a story; a person is a story-an incomplete story, always evolving. At their confluence, the stories of cultures manifest through individuals, and individuals express themselves through the stories of their cultures.  As such, one is a story of the other, with each reflecting one another.  Indeed, on this planet, there are seven billion stories and counting, incomplete and always evolving, as diverse as all the peoples on earth, yet, somehow humanely very similar to one another.  How these many stories are told, heard, and created is very much the domain of counselling. Continue reading

Career Practitioners Should Advocate for Maths and STEM Educators

Career development practitioners (CDPs) should play a vitally important role in the Australian Government’s “innovation agenda” and the focus on careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). CDPs’ current contribution to the innovation agenda is, however, marginal and unheard. The insignificance of the contribution is not for want of interest nor trying; for it is the case that the CDPs make a very contribution to the lives of students of all ages and education sectors. What is missing is a strategy for research and development for STEM careers, which is an irony given the R&D focus of the innovation agenda.

Here we argue that CDPs can speak to that agenda but only as an outcome of making a substantive contribution to solving crucial problems that cause diminished interest in STEM careers.

Much of the rhetoric of urgency in the innovation agenda echoes Australia’s performance on benchmark tests of literacy and numeracy (OECD, 2016) and hyperbole that Australia is “falling behind” its global competitors. In fact, the differences between the average of Australian students and the averages of some other industrial nations (e.g., Germany) may not be all that meaningful beyond statistical differences; however, quite marked differences are present in comparison with nations that have a central role in the economy of Asia Pacific (e.g., Korea, Japan). The blame for Australians students’ relatively weaker performance is sheeted home to teachers along with accusations that teachers are not sufficiently prepared to engage in the teaching of mathematics, which is the inherent language of science, technology, and engineering. Indeed, without M in the STEM, there is no S, T, and E. Continue reading