Grains Research and Development

Agribusiness Training Program GRDC Subsidised Training project

Researcher's Name:
Mrs Brigette Lacey
Organisation:
Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) PO BOX 483 Northam WA 6401 Australia
Email:
Phone:
(08) 9690 2128
Fax:
(08) 9622 1902
Project Code:
DAW00200
Contract Start:
20/6/2010
Contract End:
29/6/2013

Summary

In order to achieve an intended outcome or goal of practice change within the grains industry, research and development programs need to incorporate a process of enabling this change (i.e. extension). Successful extension involves the strategic use of techniques, tools, activities and actions to engender change in target groups. The capacity of extension providers to achieve practice change is determined by knowledge and skills in both the practice at a technical level and extension processes.The Agribusiness Training Program (AgT), a joint initiative between the Department of Agriculture and Food Western Australia (DAFWA) and Curtin University of Technology (Curtin), offers professionals working within the natural resource management and agricultural industries “short”, “sharp” training programs that are relevant, practical, hands-on, timely and ideally located. Courses programmed by AgT aim to address the issue of low adoption of practices resulting from limited knowledge and experience. These workshops are designed to address the skills and knowledge necessary to build participants’ technical and/or extension capacity, they include hands-on application of skills to individual's own workplace examples to ensure relevance and applicability. Presenters and facilitators contracted by AgT are recognised experts in their professional field and Curtin staff assists with quality assurance for the academic components of the courses.The target audience for the training proposed through the tender project is a very diverse group of professional extension providers working for a range of agricultural and natural resource management industries throughout the GRDC western region, as such the target audience of these extension providers is also diverse and distributed across the GRDC western region. The AgT client group include professionals who work in a role of consultant/agronomist providing one-on-one or group based extension services directly to growers in crop and pasture agronomy, animal nutrition, whole farm planning and natural resource management, aimed at increasing the productivity, profitability and sustainability of farming enterprises. Many are also responsible for the planning and execution of externally and internally funded projects, and need the skills to ensure on-ground impact of these projects through facilitated engagement of farmers and other stakeholders, as well as those skills required for planning, evaluation, reporting and promotion of project outcomes. The scale of the projects AgT course participants are responsible for has varied from the relatively small local level to the large regional projects.The AgT training is designed to meet the needs of a client group who is already employed within the agricultural and natural resource management industry sector and who enrolls for AgT courses in order to gain skills and knowledge to meet existing work requirements. Time away from the workplace to attend training (including travel to and from the training) needs to be at a minimum as this represents a cost to the employer or project. AgT aims to reduce the employees’ time away from the workplace to attend training by condensing the training contact time into 2 to 3 day workshop-style courses.The AgT program aims to be flexible in its delivery approach; the timing and location of courses are determined by demand. The annual AgT course program, including group bookings, results through a feedback process to the AgT Coordinator from industry networks and potential participants via expressions of interest.DAFWA and Curtin currently deliver these programs and are subsidising their costs through AgT which involves time from staff of both institutions. It is our observation that even with this support, the cost to some potential participants precludes their involvement in the training. Our plan is to cost share with GRDC so that there will be an opportunity for more participants to be involved because the current costs limit the number of attendees. Based on our current costs $30,000 would cover approximately one third of the cost to participants of running 8 courses for about 15 participants per course. These costs include fixed costs (presenter costs, venue fees, conference equipment hire) and variable costs (workbook preparation, catering and consumables). They do not cover overhead costs of the AgT coordinator, DAFWA administration and Curtin staff time.The courses offered through the AgT program focus on the skills set required for extension which represent the majority of the training offered through the project (i.e. at least 6 out of the 8 courses run through the AgT GRDC subsidised training project per annum). These courses include the Adult Learning Course, Group Skills Course, Strategic Extension Planning for Impact Course and Planning for Evaluation Course. There are also other courses offered through the AgT program which focus on a participant's technical skills which also have the potential of increasing a participant's capacity as an extension provider. These courses include the Crop and Pasture Nutrition Course and Plant Disease Identification Course. As AgT aims to be responsive to participant needs, the final breakdown of each course run (when and/or how many times) per year, will be determined by demand. Each course will be programmed once per year and will run if minimum enrollment levels are reached; additional courses will be programmed on demand. (Note: The technical courses generally do not have the option of group booking for alternative times or locations, and are usually run only once per annum. i.e. Crop and Pasture Nutrition is usually run early April to allow skills to be used in that season and Plant Disease Identification August when there is most likely to be examples of diseases available)

Research

Professional extension providers working in agriculture and natural resource management, generally aim to achieve practice change within the agricultural sector. In order to achieve this they require opportunities to maintain or build their capacity in knowledge and skills at a technical level and in extension processes through training. The Agribusiness Training Program (AgT) has an established history of providing quality training targeting these needs. As a result of current tough times experienced throughout the industry the cost associated with training has precluded involvement for an increasing number of professional extension providers. These professionals are responsible for the planning and execution of industry projects, the accumulated financial investment of these is significant. The potential cost to the industry of staff working in these projects without the opportunity to maintain or build the skills and knowledge required to get practice change to happen on the ground is also significant. The project involves providing subsidised cost of attendance to increase accessibility to courses aimed at professional extension providers in WA and programmed to address the issue of ensuring adoption of practices through maintenance and building of knowledge and experience. The courses address the skills and knowledge necessary to build participants technical and/or extension capacity, they include hands-on application of skills to individuals own workplace examples to ensure relevance and applicability. This is the first year of this three year project. To the date of the first progress report 2 subsidised training events had been run (i.e. the Introduction to Program Logic Course and the Strategic Extension Planning for Impact Course); both were extension skills focused; resulting in 28 enrolments from extension staff working in the GRDC western region, and their subsequent participation in training. To the date of the first progress report another 7 courses were programmed for the following 6 month period; 5 of these courses focused on extension skills. There were at that point 31 enrolments for two of the pending courses so the output of 50 enrolments was on track to be achieved by 1/7/2011. Evaluation was undertaken for both the 2010 courses as part of the ongoing workshop evaluations to ensure training programs meet participant and industry needs. Post course surveys of the Introduction to Program Logic Course participants supported the presenter observations, and the Strategic Extension Planning for Impact Course participants rated the overall course as worthwhile to extremely worthwhile.

Publications

Title = Introduction to Program Logic Course (presenter – Carina Calzoni) When = Aug 17th, 2010. Where = Northam No. in audience = 14 (nature of audience – mainly regional biosecurity officers) Title = Strategic Extension Planning for Impact Course (presenter – Jenny Crisp) When = Nov 2nd 3rd and 4th, 2010. Where = Narrogin No. in audience = 14 (nature of audience – mainly regional biosecurity officers)

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