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Tips on paving a successful career path for young farmers

4 September 2018

Networking and self-belief were two of the key themes to come out of this year’s Innovation Generation conference held in Wagga Wagga in July.

The two-and-a-half day event, gave farmers and other industry representatives aged 35 and under the chance to learn, network and discuss the challenges of leadership in the fast moving Australian agricultural sector.

John Marshall, a 23-year-old field officer with Glencore Agriculture, found the conference inspiring.

“It showed that if you want to get anywhere, you need to push to make connections and create mentors,” he said. “A lot of people are willing to be mentors, you’ve just got to ask.”

He said speaker Georgie Aley stood out from the crowd.

“Her presentation ‘Shaping a Career In Agribusiness: My Reflection’ was quite inspirational,” John said. “She talked about how she got to where she is and how she connected with the people who supported her throughout her career.”
Georgie has a longstanding affiliation with the conference, starting it a decade ago when working for Grain Growers Limited.

“It was the first event of its type in the agricultural space for young farmers and young professionals,” she said.

At 33, Georgie’s career history includes more than 10 years of senior management and non-executive director roles within the Australian food and agribusiness sector.

Most recently she was the CEO of The Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology and prior to that she was managing director of the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council and a director of Pulse Australia, Agribusiness Australia and Workforce Consulting.

Her presentation delivered seven key points of advice drawn from her career:

1) Be open to opportunities
“I was a born and bred Sydney girl who wanted to be an equine vet,” Georgie said. “I ended up studying in Orange and developed a love for rural life and its people.

“Sometimes we can be so close-minded or so fixated on where we think we’re going to go that we close off to opportunities. Those unexpected chances create a bigger opportunity. While we can have a desired career path in place, we still need to be open and flexible.”

2) Say yes and back yourself
Georgie said a lot of women, in particular, look at a job and think, ‘Oh, God, I need to tick six out of those 10 boxes.’

“When I was asked to become a CEO at 27 dealing with CEOs of companies like Kellogg’s and Nestle, I thought, ‘I don’t think like them, I don’t talk like them,’ she said. “Sometimes you’ve got to back yourself and take the leap. Say yes and work hard. Opportunity doesn’t come by turning up at 9am and leaving at 5pm. You have to do the hours, you still have to do the time, stretch yourself and take risks.”

3) Give back
“One of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced is giving back to the industry that gave me such a great career,” Georgie said.

“Volunteering can help advance your industry and also allows you to build your own skills and network. By giving voluntary time, I advanced my career faster than I might have done by not being engaged in the industry.

“I’m a big believer that if someone’s throwing you a hand, you’ve got to throw a hand back and pull people through with you. As a peer group, we’re there to support each other and bring on the next generation. Talk to them, spend time with them, and invest in them the way we wanted to be invested in.”

4) Manage your brand
Building your voice through nominations for industry (and non-ag) awards, and a strong social media profile and platform can help build a strong reputation,” Georgie said. “Reputation is everything and as you build a career you really need to be conscious of what you want to be known for. “I want people to say, ‘If you want something done, call Georgie Aley. She gets the job done but goes above and beyond your expectations with grace and with humour.’

“I want them to think, ‘She’s a bloody good operator, she does a bloody good job, she’s a pleasure to deal with, and she is an absolute professional in the way she does that.’

5) The power of mentors
“Mentors have been very influential in my life,” Georgie said. “One was someone I approached for advice who eventually became my boss.”
“Peer-to-peer mentoring with people your own age is also beneficial. We’ve got a great network of women in my tier of the industry and we all support each other. Mentors can be real cheerleaders for you out there in the industry. They can find opportunities for you and help drive your career. “I also recommend having more than one mentor – don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Surround yourself with people who know you intimately and support you but also challenge you.”

6) The power of networking

Georgie says network but not just for the sake of networking. “For me, it’s about the quality of relationships, not the number of LinkedIn connections you have,” she said. “I’ve always taken the view of ‘What can I do for my network?’ not ‘What can my network do for me?’ I get no greater joy than connecting people in my network… it builds your reputation as well.”

7) Ongoing education
Finally Georgie says financial, technical and business skills are important as this industry continues to operate and evolve as a profession. “Education is both informal and formal,” she said. “It allows you to keep across industry changes, business practices, and the value of being a member of your industry association, as well as short courses and attending conferences.

“It’s important to keep learning. We don’t know everything, and we never will. Having that curiosity to keep learning is really important to keep you sharp and relevant in your career as you move forward.”

The next Innovation Generation will be held in Victoria during 2019.