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«Plant Pathology and Entomology Capability Study Bruce Howie Managing Director C-Qual Agritelligence Pty Ltd Table of Contents Table of Contents ...»

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Primary focus in both surveys was defined in terms of the industry or public sector on which the capability primarily concentrates. The sectors listed in the two surveys were largely the same, however, additional categories were included in the entomology section. These were a) urban/commercial pest management, b) medical/public health entomology and c) insecticide technology. Table 7 show the results obtained from both surveys for primary focus of respondents.

Agricultural and horticultural production dominate the primary focus of plant pathologists and entomologists and show little change in percentage FTEs between 2006 and 2012. In fact there are only small changes in primary focus across all areas. There has been an apparent loss of resource in agriculture storage, from an initial low figure in 2006 and an increase in the resource allocated to horticulture post-harvest.

The new focus areas in entomology only drew low levels of response, but it should be noted that these categories were added after the survey was launched and were not available to early respondents. However, despite the possibility of having missed some respondents in these important areas, actual capacity is almost certainly very low.

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Field ‘experts’ In the 2012 survey a question was added to determine years of experience in respondents’ field of speciality. This was in order to obtain some perspective on the availability of ‘experts’ in these fields. Somewhat arbitrarily, for this report, an ‘expert’ is defined as having more than 10 years in their field. The identification of experts within these fields is an important aspect of evaluating capability. As noted by Merriman (2012) industry experts have ‘…specific qualifications and extensive experience in an industry or government environment (with) unique capacity to add value through maturity of judgement.’


Therefore, any shift in expert capacity is likely to have significant impact on an industry’s overall capability to respond to demands, implement sound decision-making process and capture innovation.

Figure 2 shows the relative proportions of those with various years of service within their specialty disciplines of both plant pathology and entomology. The result is encouraging in terms of the numbers of ‘experts’ available in these fields, but also alarming in terms of the shallow field of expertise coming through to fulfil roles of expert contribution in the future.

• Figure 2: Years of experience in field of specialty 2012 survey (actual numbers)

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0 20 40 60 80 100 120 Future Demand for Capability Importance of plant pathology sub-disciplines The survey gathered data on how individuals within the targeted organisations identified the current importance of the various sub-discipline areas in plant pathology and entomology. Figure 3 shows the rankings for the various plant pathology sub-disciplines. Rankings are based on a weighted average calculated from a five-point scale where 5 is most important.


• Figure 3: Ranked importance of plant pathology sub-disciplines as assessed in both the 2006 and 2012 surveys 2012 2006

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0.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0 Mycology continues to be regarded as the most important of the sub-disciplines within plant pathology but molecular plant pathology, while still ranked in second position, has shown an increase in importance since 2006 and is now approaching a similar level to mycology. All other sub-disciplines score higher in importance in 2012 with particularly strong increases for nematology and phytoplasmas.

Current and future importance of plant pathology skills Figure 4 shows the relative current and future importance of the various plant pathology skills and competencies as ranked by respondents. Once again a weighted average based on a five-point scale is applied.

A comparison of rankings between current and future importance is similar across the range of skills and competencies. However, while following a similar pattern, future importance tends to record higher levels of importance than current. Greatest increase in importance is in education and training, which is interesting given the low level of application in these areas noted earlier.

Field diagnostics, risk assessment & quarantine and emergency response show clear increases in future importance, which possibly reflects growing emphasis in these areas. Physiology also shows a similar increase in future importance.


• Figure 4: Relative current and future importance of plant pathology skills and competencies as ranked in the 2012 survey

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0.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0 Importance of entomology sub-disciplines Figure 5 shows the rankings of current importance for the various entomology sub-disciplines, ranked on the basis of a five-point, weighted average scale. All areas are rated equal to or higher in importance in 2012 than they were in 2006. Many show quite large increases, in particular genetics, biochemistry and taxonomy/systematics. The latter continues to rank as the most important sub-discipline area, whilst genetics and biochemistry rank above their 2006 rankings.

• Figure 5: Ranked importance of entomology sub-disciplines as assessed in both the 2006 and 2012 surveys 2012 2006

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0.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0 Current and future importance of entomology skills The relative current and future importance of the various entomology skills and competencies as ranked by respondents are shown in Figure 6. Quite strong increases in future importance occur in areas of diagnostics, risk assessment & quarantine, environment & ecology and education & training. In a clear reversal of the trend towards increasing importance, emergency response & management shows quite a reduction in future importance compared to current importance.


• Figure 6: Relative current and future importance of entomology skills and competencies as ranked in the 2012 survey

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0.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0 3.5 4.0 4.5


4. Age Profile and Service Expectations Age Profile Both surveys gathered data on the age profiles within the two disciplines. The results of the 2012 survey are shown in Table 8. In the 2006 survey there was no representation from the under 25 age bracket. In 2012 there were some responses but numbers were low. It is suggested that this may not be representative due to the possibility that many in this age bracket may see themselves as generalists engaged in a wide range of activities and not specifically regarding themselves as plant pathologists or entomologists per se. Despite this there are probably many in this category that contribute to the overall national capability in these two discipline areas.

None-the-less, it is significant that numbers are low in this segment and must generate some concern that emerging specialist capacity is limited. It is interesting to note that the lack of representation in the under 25s in 2006 has translated into low numbers in the 25-34 age bracket in the 2012 survey. Figure 7 and Figure 8 clearly show the profiles shifting through the age brackets between 2006 and 2012 with the low student intake in recent years starting to push deeper into the profile. On top of this the figures also illustrates the shift of higher percentages into the over 55 age bracket with the obvious consequences as these move out of the system.

Table 8: Age profile for each discipline - 2012

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• Figure 7: Comparison of the percentage of overall plant pathologists in each age bracket as survey in 2006 and 2012 2006 2012 40.0% 35.0% 30.0% 25.0% 20.0% 15.0% 10.0% 5.0% 0.0% 25 25- 34 35- 44 45- 54 55


• Figure 8: Comparison of the percentage of overall entomologists in each age bracket as surveyed in 2006 and 2012 2006 2012 40.0% 35.0% 30.0% 25.0% 20.0% 15.0% 10.0% 5.0% 0.0% 25 25- 34 35- 44 45- 54 55 The positive view expressed in the 2006 report that low numbers in the 55+ age bracket should allay fears of significant losses is now somewhat redundant. Six years further on and there is a high percentage in the over 55s and very poor build up in the lower age brackets, indicating just how quickly the situation can change and the critical position these disciplines are likely to face over

the next 6 – 10 year period. Importantly the 2006 report commented:

This profile should not be of immediate concern but should be recognised as a significant opportunity for the two disciplines to ensure that capability is maintained well into the future. However, with this opportunity is an unambiguous warning. The capability evident in the 45-54 age bracket must be captured, transferred and most importantly retained down the profile.

Unfortunately the evidence is clear that there has been minimal build up in the lower age profiles and the effectiveness of knowledge and skills transfer has not been obvious. The need for a clearly stated professional development strategy at the organisational level is now both more evident and more urgent that ever before.

Service Expectations Data on two aspects of service expectations were obtained from the survey. Firstly, respondents were asked to indicate how long they expected to continue in their plant pathology or entomology career and secondly, to indicate reasons why they might leave their career.

Table 9 summarizes the expected years of service indicated by survey respondents. Retired or unemployed respondents are noted in the column headed N/A. The column headed ‘Active’ indicates those who are actively employed in these disciplines. Percentage calculations relating to expected departures are based on these actively employed respondents. Forty four percent of “Active’ have indicated that they are likely to leave within 10 years, and 60% within 15 years. Forty percent expect to remain in plant pathology or entomology for more than 15 years. This is marginally better than the 2006 survey where there was an anticipated loss from these 2 disciplines of close to 50% within 10 years and 63% within 15 years. The loss rate remains a concern, as this is a high proportion of the skills base potentially lost over the next few years, either through retirement or other pursuits.


Table 9: Expected years of service for each discipline reported in the 2012 survey (2006 percentage shown in parenthesis).

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Table 10 indicates how the various sub-disciplines in plant pathology are impacted by expected years of service, whilst Table 11 shows the impact on entomology sub-disciplines.

Table 10: Expected years of service for plant pathology sub-disciplines reported in the 2012 survey (actual numbers).

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All sub-discipline area will be significantly impacted over the next 10 years with loss of capacity that is not going to be readily replaced due to low numbers in the younger age brackets and university entry levels that continue to decline.

The following is taken from the 2006 report but is important to repeat here as it clearly emphasizes the on-going pressure on plant pathology and entomology positions and the demand for ‘new’ and ‘replacement’ capacity.


In light of these data, if capability is to be maintained, there will be a strong demand for replacement of skills lost. The SET audit (DEST, 2006) indicates that overall ‘replacement’ demand for SET skills will exceed ‘new’ demand over the next decade. The audit defines ‘new’ demand and ‘replacement’ demand as follows:

‘Demand from industry for skilled employees is comprised of two basic components: demand that arises due to economic growth and/or the emergence of new industries and technology leading to the creation of new jobs that did not previously exist, referred to as ‘new’ demand; and demand that arises from staff turnover, movements and retirement, referred to as ‘replacement’ demand.’ The audit draws data from a Monash study which projects employment growth over the period 2004-5 to 2012-13 in agriculture & environment related fields of 36.2% and in the natural & physical sciences of 33.3%. Agriculture & environment are projected to show an annual replacement demand of 2.0% and a growth (new) demand of 3.9%. For the natural & physical sciences the projections are 4.5% and –2.3% respectively. Plant pathology and entomology are not specifically addressed but are closely linked to these two categories of SET. The Monash study identifies the ‘baby-boomer’ retirement effect in these projections but probably does not recognize the high level of early attrition identified in the plant pathology and entomology survey. This result is likely to drive up the replacement demand above that shown in the Monash study and raises important implications for employing organisations with regard to professional development, internal training and succession planning.

From Table 9 it is evident that 35 of the 310 respondents were either retired or unemployed, resulting in a total of 275 actively employed in these two disciplines. Of these 60%, or 165, indicated that they were likely to leave within 15 years for a range of reasons. One respondent did not provide age or a reason for likely departure, leaving 164 responses to be analysed on this criterion.

Considering these 164 respondents, Table 12 links the likely reasons for departure from field of specialty with the expected years of service indicated. Of those likely to leave within 5 years, 53% indicated retirement as the reason. This percentage is almost double that found in 2006.

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