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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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Overseas opportunity or study was indicated by 15%, also up from 2006. Presumably these would not be totally lost from the discipline areas.

New field of activity and limited tenure or funding were indicated by 14% and 17% respectively suggesting that 31% of the loss from these disciplines is likely to be for reasons other than retirement or career development within the disciplines. This is noticeably less than in 2006 when 57% indicated departure in less than 5 years for these reasons.

Regardless of the expected years of service, however, retirement is the dominant reason for likely departure, ultimately accounting for 70% of anticipated departures over the next 15 years. This is a large increase from 2006 and reflects the shift in age profile.

Table 12: Relationship between service expectations and likely reasons to leave plant pathology or entomology expressed as a percentage within each bracket of expected years of service. (2006 percentages are shown in parenthesis)

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Table 13 summarizes data on the relationship between age range and likely reasons to leave in the context of ‘Active’ respondents, that is, those currently in employment. It is not surprising that retirement dominates the 55 age bracket at 88% anticipating departure due to retirement. In the 45-54 age bracket 51% anticipate departure due to retirement, whilst 39% have no plans to leave.

Together, that means 90% of this age bracket appear quite committed to their profession, a positive result.

A positive result overall is the numbers in the lower age brackets that indicate no plans to leave their field. Under 25s had a response rate too low to be meaningful, however, 60% of the 25-34 bracket and 70% of the 35-44 bracket indicated a commitment to their career.

Therefore, apart from retirement, the greatest risk of loss from the two disciplines appears to be concerns over funding or seeking new career opportunities. These two factors may, of course, be linked, but potentially will lead to a combined 20% loss from the ranks of these mid-career specialists.

Those in the 25-34 age bracket have a strong interest in career development through overseas study or opportunities, accounting for 23% of those actively employed in this bracket. Up to 15% of those actively employed in this bracket may be lost from these disciplines altogether through other pursuits and/or concerns over tenure or funding.

Table 13: Relationship between age range and likely reasons to leave plant pathology or entomology based on actual numbers of ‘Active’ respondents in each age bracket.

The percentage of ‘Active’ respondents is shown in parenthesis.

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This relationship between age groupings and likely reasons for departure was not conducted for the 2006 survey report. However, what is evident in looking at both Tables 12 and 13 based on the 2012 survey, there appears to be a stronger commitment to maintaining careers in these two disciplines than there was in 2006.

Despite this the projected departures due to retirement is a major threat. This provides strong reinforcement for the concerns expressed regarding loss of skills, inadequate succession planning and lack of new talent that emerge in part 6 of this report.

Losses are not limited to retirement, however, with departures due to concerns over funding and tenure potentially driving career changes which suggests a need to pay close attention to retention of key staff in younger and mid-term career age brackets. Retention strategies and succession planning are clearly closely linked and should possibly be considered together.


5. Education and Training Training Priorities – Competency and Skills In order to identify target areas for education and training the survey collected data on the attributes employing organisations would rate most highly when seeking to employ new staff. Respondents familiar with the current and future employment needs of their organisations completed this section (Part B) of the survey. Similar to the 2006 survey, most highly regarded are sound research skills followed by communication skills (see Figure 9). In 2012, however, these are only marginally above field-based skills and laboratory skills, the latter showing a strong increase over 2006 results.

• Figure 9: Ranked importance of attributes in future staff appointments 2012 2006 Commercial or advisory skills

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0.0 1.0 2.0 3.0 4.0 5.0 To obtain insight into how best to meet future capability and skills requirements the survey requested information on the most appropriate education and training approaches. Responses to this part of the survey are shown in Figure 10.

Post graduate specialisation along with practical & field skills have rated most strongly in the 2012 survey, however, a number of changes from 2006 to 2012 are evident. Generalised undergraduate programs appear to have become more important whilst internal training less so.

Undergraduate specialist training shows a very strong upward swing whilst professional development shows a very strong decline in importance.

There is no immediate explanation for this but it is interesting that the two areas showing a drop in importance both relate to institutional training responsibilities whereas the strong upswings are in areas of external responsibility. More work would be required to determine any significance in this but given that institutional managers have largely been responsible for assessing these priorities, it may be useful to try to understand what is driving this shift in perceptions.


• Figure 10: Identification of training priorities as a percentage of all responses (n=160) 2012 2006

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0.0% 5.0% 10.0% 15.0% 20.0% 25.0% Industry support for education and training In both surveys respondents were asked to review a list of different approaches to supporting the training and development of plant pathologists and entomologists and assess the extent to which their organisation may or may not engage with each. The results are shown in Table 14 with percentage for each of three categories, i) unlikely to support, ii) possibly support or, iii) highly likely to support. Some additional training and support options were provided in the 2012 survey but, where applicable, results for 2006 are shown in parenthesis.

The only area to rate strongly in the ‘Highly likely’ category is ‘As an employer of postgraduates’.

This clearly places pressure on opportunities for undergraduates looking to move into employment.

This observation was noted in the 2006 report but the concern is even more evident in the 2012

survey results. The observation from the 2006 report is quoted below for further emphasis:

These results emphasize again the significance placed on postgraduate achievement, almost certainly driven by the research focus of organisations surveyed. There is a substantial drop in the likely employment of undergraduates and this is an important area for concern. What is evident from this result is an opportunity gap for graduates, meaning that they are driven into postgraduate programs in an effort to improve employment opportunities and therefore do not have the opportunity to build on their undergraduate degree with workplace experience. It is not surprising that employers identify shortage of practical skills as an issue.

There is quite a clear shift away from the likelihood that organisations will commit to skills development and training. In almost every case there is an increase from 2006 in the ‘Unlikely’ column and a corresponding decrease from 2006 in the ‘Highly likely’ column. When this is combined with the inference above that organisations appear to be placing less priority on internal training options this is potentially an alarming trend. Further examination of this would be beneficial in order to understand more clearly how organisations view their responsibilities for internal development; succession planning and skills transfer within their operations.


Table 14: Overall potential for employment and training support from the 2012 survey.

(2006 responses are shown in parenthesis)

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The 2006 report further states:

It is also evident from these results that employers are reluctant to contribute in a direct financial way to education and training. All options involving direct financial contribution, including scholarships, cadetships and course sponsorship rate quite strongly in the ‘unlikely’ category.

In order to encourage graduates into plant pathology and entomology careers, thereby ensuring on-going capability in these fields the major employing organisations need to consider these issues carefully. There is a need to promote the employment of undergraduates, focus on the internal development of the skills base and be more prepared to invest in the specialisation and careers of their people.

Unfortunately the situation appears to have deteriorated rather than improved. A key challenge for organisations looking to have reliable access to a capable workforce in plant pathology and entomology is for them to take greater responsibility in providing employment opportunities and skills development in a nurturing environment. Attention to these areas is likely to see a more positive culture for developing talent as well as building a foundation for succession as expert skills and experience are handed on from industry specialists nearing retirement.


6. Issues that concern survey respondents The surveys in both 2006 and 2012 collected information on how concerned plant pathologists and entomologists were about a range of issues that influence their current employment and work environment. Areas such as employment opportunities, career progression, work pressure, tenure and funding, among others were explored. Three new areas were added to the 2012 survey, which were opportunities for professional development, perceived shift from strategic to applied research and capacity to respond to biosecurity incursions.

In the area of organisational capacity to meet future requirements, respondents were asked to rate additional areas of concern including, capacity to meet demand for services, impact of emergency response, access to qualified specialists and anticipated retirement of key personnel.

In each case respondents were asked to rate their concerns using a 4 point scale – ‘Not concerned at all’, ‘Concerned’, ‘Very concerned’ and ‘Extremely concerned’.

Table 15 summarizes the results obtained across the range of issues that influence employment at a personal level. For comparison the results for the 2006 survey across the same issues are

shown in parenthesis. Highlights in these responses include:

–  –  –

Respondents indicated a number of ‘Other’ areas of concern. Figure 11 is a word cloud indicating the range and importance of issues that respondents indicated in open responses. Despite


‘Funding’ being an option in the initial selections it has been further highlighted in these response, often connected with short planning horizons and limited contract periods for research projects.

Succession planning and future prospects/career opportunities are also of concern along with the loss of skills through inadequate training, limited knowledge transfer and retirement.

• Figure 11: Word cloud indicating the range and frequency of various concerns impacting employment as noted in open responses (2012) Current concerns, as indicated above, are similar to those that respondents have in terms of their organisations capacity to meet future requirements. A range of issues was listed in the survey and Table 16 shows the responses to those issues. Responses from the 2006 survey are shown in parenthesis for comparison.

Highlights from responses to concerns about future capacity are:

–  –  –


• Table 16: Level of concern expressed across a range of issues relating to future requirements within each discipline 2012 (2006 percentage responses are shown in parenthesis)

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Responses to ‘Other’ also revealed a number of concerns through open responses. Again, there is significant overlap in that the things that concern respondents in the current climate tend to be the things that worry them about the future capacity in their fields of specialty. Figure 12 provides an illustration of the range and frequency of future concerns by means of a word map.

• Figure 12: Word cloud indicating the range and frequency of various concerns about future capacity as noted in open responses (2012)


7. Conclusion The 2012 survey provided important insights into the current capability in the fields of plant pathology and entomology and when reviewed along side the 2006 survey similarities and differences are readily identified. Similar response levels were achieved with both surveys, 2012 receiving 333 complete surveys whilst the 2006 survey delivered 359 responses.

Australia and New Zealand continue to be supported by a capable resource in plant pathology and entomology and it is evident from the two surveys that the resource is particularly strong in academic achievement. Of the 333 respondents in 2012, 65% are qualified at PhD level, an increase from 59% in 2006. Sixty-two percent are employed in the government sector with 21% in the education sector. The percentage distribution across the sectors is largely similar in both surveys.

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