Matching need with demand: Newcastle International College linking international students with harvest work
7th Aug, 2020 Feature story:
Part-time employment is an important source of income for many international students. Australia’s hospitality and tourism sector used to provide plentiful employment opportunities for many international students – at least until the response to COVID-19 required governments to order shutdowns and implement strict social distancing.
The service sector as a whole has been hard hit by these measures, and international students in particular lost their part-time work gigs. The ensuing erosion of student finances was often exacerbated by economic downturns and protracted lockdown in their home countries, affecting parents’ remittances and capacity to support children studying overseas.
State governments have responded with targeted funding initiatives such as New South Wales’ emergency accommodation package, and universities have made multi-million dollar hardship relief funding available to their students.
The sector has been going to extraordinary lengths to help support students during these challenging times. Here we survey one particular hardship-relief initiative that seeks to connect students with harvest work, and explores the possibility of adapting this scheme for other regional study destinations across Australia.
Farmers want to hire international students
Newcastle International College on the Callaghan campus of The University of Newcastle has been introducing commencing students with local businesses seeking to hire part-time casual workers, largely in entry-level roles in food and hospitality, retail, IT and graphic design. The Hire Me! Project allows employers to meet international students seeking work in a ‘speed-dating’ type of scenario.
But lockdown conditions and the emerging recession have fundamentally changed the dynamics of the part-time labour market, prompting Newcastle International College to find new opportunities for its international students.
As part-time work opportunities in retail and restaurants have melted away, border closures and travel restrictions have opened new demand for labour in Australia’s farm sector. According to some projections, agriculture will be short of 90,000 positions in the 2020/2021 season due to the lack of working holiday visa holders. Could this be the proverbial silver lining for international students seeking to relieve their stressed finances?
Newcastle International College has started a collaboration with the government-appointed harvest labour supplier, CozWine, to connect students looking for part-time work with agriculturalists and horticulturalists throughout the Hunter and Central West regions of New South Wales. Once matched, students will be assigned to nearby locations on four-day assignments during term time; or two, four or six week harvest trail deployments further afield during inter-semester breaks.
An unexpected Australia
The partnership between Newcastle International College and CozWine protects students from exploitation by ensuring that payment arrangements and working environments meet all required legislation. An additional benefit is the opportunity for international students to explore and become familiar with country Australia. Temporary workers quickly become integrated into welcoming rural communities and create long-term working relationships and friendships. The students’ experience of travel and work in rural and regional New South Wales is likely to become a long-remembered highlight of their time in Australia.
This initial pilot will likely continue in some form even when the social distancing restrictions are removed and other aspects of the Hire Me! Project are reintroduced. While borders remain closed and backpackers and holiday-makers are not coming to Australia, agriculturalists and horticulturalists will need to find other sources of labour. International students will always be seeking opportunities to earn an income to support their studies, explore Australia and experience our culture. Collaborations of this type may become a win-win situation, with potential to benefit international students and farming communities across regional Australia.