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Shear talent leads to more women taking a stand in the wool industry

Primary Industries

Girls are flocking to test out their shearing skills in South Australia as the number of women taking up careers in the male dominated profession booms.

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In the 2017/18 financial year TAFE SA trained 189 budding shearers in week-long learner schools at 22 locations across South Australia where students were taught the basics and began a Certificate II and III in Shearing.

A further 80 students went to 11 improver schools, which are like trade schools for apprentices, where they can complete Certificate II and III and increase speed to a minimum of 120 sheep per day.

TAFE SA Shearing and Wool Program Coordinator Glenn Haynes said about 80 of the students at the learner schools in the past year were women and a dozen more attended improver schools.

“Five or six years ago there was only two or three female shearers across the state, at the moment there are at least 18 to 20 who are full time shearers,” he said.

“It’s been phenomenal for us – we love it – we’ve got a lot down to come next year already.

“The other states are growing their numbers too but I think we’re leading the way.”

Haynes said the huge level of interest in shearing among young women was seen at a one-day female-only TAFE SA workshop in Naracoorte in October 2016 where more than 50 girls from South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales applied for 18 positions.

A similar workshop, which will again be sponsored by Australian Wool Innovations, is planned in Naracoorte this October.

“Out of the 18 there would be 10 who would be full-time shearers now,” Haynes said.

“We just thought if they are knocking down the doors then let’s all work together to encourage these girls but I never thought it would be like this.”

Unlike other places such as the United Kingdom and Europe, formal qualifications are not required to shear in Australia but training can help develop skills, knowledge and speed, ultimately winning a place on a shearing team.

Shearer Chloe Swiggs in action.

Haynes said the female shearers showed finesse, attention to detail and pride in their work.

“They have a really light hand and it’s pretty hard to find one that you wouldn’t call a natural,” he said.

“They shear differently to us guys – there’s no doubt about it – they’ve just a knack of shifting weight that males haven’t got. We shear with power whereas they shear with finesse and get the same result.

“It was only 15 to 20 years ago when women weren’t even really allowed in shearing sheds – the only female you’d ever see would be maybe a (wool) classer and all the rouseabouts were males.

“Now almost all the rouseabouts are females and if they don’t want to become classers then the only other place they can progress is into a shearer.

“Once they start having a go and realise they can do it – it’s a confidence thing – away they go.”

Chloe Swiggs, pictured above right, recently became the first female to complete a Certificate III in Shearing in South Australia having studied the qualification through TAFE SA.

The 25-year-old now shears about 160 sheep in a day and has worked with GWR Shearing Services for almost a year in sheds across South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

“I think women have been interested in shearing for years I’m just not sure whether they had been given the opportunities to jump on a stand like females today,” Swiggs said.

“Now that it is becoming more and more accepted, women are taking the opportunity to be involved.”

Swiggs attended TAFE SA’s Willalooka Learner School in the South East of South Australia in February 2017 where she sheared her first sheep.

From there, she attended an Improver School in the state’s north and signed up to TAFE SA’s Certificate III in Shearing, which has taught her about animal welfare, preparing combs and cutters, maintaining handpieces, shearing to a professional level and workplace safety.

“Since I’ve started shearing I’ve had so many females come to me and say ‘I wish I had done that when I had the chance’ or ‘I’m really interested in shearing, but I don’t know how to start’”, Swiggs said.

“Life is too short to have a ‘shoulda, coulda, woulda’ attitude.

“Doing this course will take you places you’ve never been before and there are so many people willing to help you succeed.

“The opportunities are endless.”

 

This is a Creative Commons story from The Lead South Australia, a news service providing stories about innovation in South Australia. Please feel free to use the story in any form of media. The story sources are linked in with the copy and all contacts are willing to talk further about the story.

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