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Rural Pathways Program – Closing the city/country divide

This outside the square initiative was born out of a need to attract staff to fill exciting new opportunities at a thriving, expanding feedlot in the South.

The Rural Pathways program was implemented in 2021 with employees commencing in February 2022. They are currently advertising for their next cohort for 2023 and hope to replicate the program throughout other Thomas Foods entities.

Thomas Foods International Feedlot has entered this initiative into the ALFA Community Heroes Award 2022, proudly supported by Lallemand Animal Nutrition. The winner will be announced at the ALFA BeefEx22 Conference in October. Read on to find out more about how this feedlot is going above and beyond to support their local community.

Tell us about your Social Initiative...

As one of the largest employers in Tintinara, the Thomas Foods Feedlot, is currently expanding from 17,000 to 30,000 head which will create a number of exciting employment opportunities in our community. Attracting employees has become not only an industry challenge but an Australia wide problem which has required us to think outside the square to employee staff. And so, the Rural Pathways Program was born.

Established in 2021, the program aimed to seek out young, enthusiastic people that were looking for an entry level opportunity in the agricultural industry, an untapped resource for both the feedlot and our rural entities. Urban school leavers with minimal experience were our primary target, believing that there are many young individuals based in the city that if given the opportunity, would thrive in a rural setting and career. In turn, the program would create a strong foundation to gain experience in all areas of the Feedlot which would lead to a successful career with Thomas Foods and in turn, contributing to our local economy.

With minimal advertising we achieved a strong response from a diverse group of school leavers keen to enter the industry. Through the interviewing phase it was evident that opportunities for school leavers with no experience are limited or at the very least, poorly communicated or executed by the sector. Our current cohort have injected new blood into the community via football, netball, tennis and volunteering for community events which is important to us as a business as it increases the chance of retention of staff.

With the success of our present cohort, we are now advertising for 2023 participants. Although in its early days, with a potential to add 5 Pathways Program employees annually, the program is shaping up to have sustainable, long term benefits to the local community, agricultural sector and our business, something which Thomas Foods prides itself on.

What impact is the initiative having on the local community?

Being located in a community with a small population and being the largest employer in the area, bringing new people to the area for employment is not a new challenge. Where this program is different is that we are attracting bright, enthusiastic, young individuals to the industry that would have never considered a career at a Feedlot.

Holly Hughes who grew up and completed schooling in Adelaide is the epitome of what this program means to us. Having had minimal exposure to the agricultural industry she was passionate about making her mark after seeing the Program advertised. Her can-do attitude has seen her move out of home for the first time and land on her two feet in a new country town where she didn’t know anyone. She was proactive in joining a number of sports, including tennis and netball for our local clubs.

In addition to Holly we have also welcomed George Sandow to Tintinara as part of the feedlot farming business. George has been a welcome addition to the community, quickly joining the local football club. The feedback from the community has been extremely positive and they continue to be a great representative for the business.

We are in the early stages of advertising for the 2023 Rural Pathways participants and to build on actively nourishing and educating our community, we continue to be keen advocates and supportive of –

  • Sponsoring local Campdrafts through cattle donations

  • Sponsoring local Sporting Clubs including Cricket, Football and Netball

  • Conducting tours for School, University and local community groups

  • Building and maintaining relationships with the Adelaide University through Key Note speaker roles for the ‘Growing the Future’ conference

  • Building and maintaining relationships with future cattle handler and breeders being involved in Career’s Panels and speaking at the 2022 SA Junior Heifer show.

Have you come across any challenges in getting the initiative off the ground?

Housing is one of the main issues facing the area and the feedlot when attempting to attract new employee to our community. Thomas Foods purchased a suitable share housing locally that is supplied as part of their package.

Our feedlot staff are employed on a 10/4 roster. To ensure our Rural Pathways participants were able to immerse themselves in our community, they were put on a 5/2 roster.

When first proposed to the business by Feedlot Management, there was some resistance from onsite operational management. Over time we have worked to bring all staff along for the ride to understand the importance of bringing new, eager people into the business. As a business we do need to recognise the increased training load required when employing inexperienced people, particularly in times where labour shortages are high. Now the program is established we have witnessed all managers being supportive and wanting to be involved in the Rural Pathways Program.

See the initiative in action:

About the ALFA Community Heroes Award

Australian feedlots are vital to the fabric of rural and regional Australia by creating jobs, supporting families, and contributing to local economies and the environment. This award recognises and rewards those feedlots that are actively nourishing their local communities and environment by going above and beyond to support their community, that ‘give-back’ and better the environment around them. The winning initiative will receive a $5,000 cash donation towards a local charity, business, or feedlot initiative to assist in further development and impact of the initiative.​

With thanks to our ALFA Platinum Member sponsor, Lallemand Animal Nutrition for their support of this Award.



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