It’s a novel approach… But ONE that is paying dividends for local youth…It’s sheep shearing.
Police Liaison Officer (PLO) Laurie Bateman works in Cunnamulla assisting local police officers with community and cultural engagements to foster co-operation and understanding.
Three years ago, PLO Bateman identified that there was a gap between rural youths and life skill programs that promoted skills and attitudes that could transfer into the workplace.
With 26 years of experience and a Guinness Word Record, in the sheep shearing industry, PLO Bateman kicked started the ‘South West Blue Light Shearing Program’.
The program has since formalised into an eight-week course run over two years that teaches all aspects of wool handling including shearing, classing and pressing, and acknowledges participants with a Certificate II in Rural Operations upon completion.
PLO Bateman’s initiative has now turned into a QPS partnership with Queensland Blue Light, and other stakeholders including Cunnamulla High School, Queensland Education, Rapad Employment Services, Skill Centred, AgForce and Australian Wool Innovation.
For the program to work, five property owners in the surrounding area provide sheep and shearing quarters for the group, one program will hold between 15-20 students and four instructors/mentors.
PLO Bateman says besides offering a pathway for employment, the program is having a powerful effect on the attitudes of the participants.
“We take the students out four times a year for a week at the end of each school term, throughout Year 10 and Year 11. The wonderful thing is by the end of the fourth week, they are getting it, and you can see their attitudes change and their self-confidence soar.”
The team that makes the program so beneficial includes shearing instructor PLO Bateman, Cozette Branfield of Rapad Employment Services who teaches the wool classing and handling aspects, and mentor PLO Adam Osbourne from St George.
Cunnamulla High School teacher Carolyn Ramsay, who has been involved since the start of the program, ensures educational requirements are met and attends training weeks as the camp cook.
With the wool industry currently booming in Queensland and trained shearers in short supply, PLO Bateman says a number of stakeholders were keen to see the program expand.
“In the future I’d like to see the program expand to other rural areas. Even if the kids don’t end up working in the wool industry, we’ve shown them that if they apply themselves they can take on challenges, deal with their emotions, learn new skills and get ahead in their lives.”