Ruralco Graduate Program develops future leaders

For a country with a proud farming history like Australia’s, the notion that agriculture struggles to find key talent is a difficult to accept. Yet, like all its domestic economic counterparts, Australia’s $60billion industry faces its own recruitment challenges.

Designed to attract the best and the brightest, the Ruralco Graduate Program is a tough and rewarding way for recent university leavers to kick-start a career in agriculture while creating a pipeline to consistently bring young people through the company.

The first Ruralco Graduate Program was established back in 2015 and since then has hosted 14 graduates, each with their own distinct interests in agriculture. The program is run over a two-year cycle which has been created to expose the graduates to diverse functions and unique businesses that will enable them to achieve future success.

While the program is structured, participants are rotated through roles to give them valuable exposure to the breadth of the industry and corporate office function. Head of People and Culture at Ruralco, Elizabeth Hardaker, says the program provides an important stepping stone for students trying to forge a career in their chosen industry while offering continuous support.

“As a student coming straight out of university, it can be very daunting to take that next step,” Ms. Hardaker said. “You’ve learned a lot of theory and have emerged from a very structured environment for a period of three to four years.”

“The Program continues that fostering and nurturing as the graduates are exposed to so much within the business. This helps them become a more rounded and developed employee in those early years of their agricultural careers.”

The Graduate Program features two groups of cohorts, each at different stages of progression. The 2018/19 cohort will complete their studies in September while the 2019/20 recently finished the first module in Melbourne.

Generating ‘confidence and self-belief’


For current graduate Emma, it was an early interest in grain marketing that drove her towards a career in agriculture. Finding a clear pathway, however, was going to be the real challenge.

“I always knew I wanted to do something business-oriented, but studying commerce meant that I never really found that natural direction into agriculture that I would have liked,” she said.

The Sydney University Graduate who grew up on a broad-acre farm, is currently based at the Ruralco head office in Sydney where she enjoys working in the Human Resources department. Eventually, however, Emma hopes to secure a position in a regional area within the network.

“While I love working in Sydney, I grew up in the country, so I hope to move back later in my career. One of the great things about the Ruralco Graduate Program is that it will allow me to gain the networks and connections to take that step in the future.”

Emma, a member of the 2019/20 cohort, said the Graduate Program offers unbridled levels of assistance and education for its graduates.

“It gives us so much support and offers many opportunities for development. Our coordinator, Robyn Barber, is there to help when we need her and there’s a real mentorship element to the whole program which has been really cool.”

Emma, along with the rest of her cohort, recently completed the first stage of the Graduate Program. In what is known as a ‘masterclass’, graduates learned about key Ruralco divisions, departments and business units, including CRT, Agfarm and Rodwells. Leadership was another focus.

Emma found her week in Melbourne to be a challenging, yet rewarding experience.

“It has been fantastic to hear from key executives and regional managers from across the Ruralco network,” she said. “The final two days focussed on the leadership aspect of the course which was an eye-opener in regards to where a role in agriculture could take me one day.”

Emma said the Graduate Program equipped university leavers with the skills they needed for a long and successful career in agriculture and had prepared her to meet any challenge head on.

“It gives young people in agriculture a pathway to explore different parts of a business and to gain a broader understanding. It gives you a lot of confidence and self-belief in your own ability.”

Matching future pathways with lifelong passions


A strong interest in livestock and animals was behind Madeleine Muirhead’s decision to apply for the Ruralco Graduate Program.

“I’ve always been very animal oriented with a special interest for animal health and welfare as I grew up on a farm in Tasmania,” she said.

“I also love horses having worked in the equine industry for a number of years which influenced my decision to try a career in agriculture. Being outside and speaking to farmers is also something I really enjoy.”

Madeleine said the opportunity to meet the rest of her cohort and understand the intricacies of the Ruralco network opened her eyes to what a career in agriculture could look like.

“I’ve really enjoyed learning all about Ruralco as a business and meeting all the other grads. I think we are all getting very excited for what our futures might bring.”

When asked what surprised her the most about her first week in Melbourne, Madeleine said it was the depth of framework and subject matter built around the program.

“You could tell just how extensive the program is and how much work and prior planning Ruralco had invested into the week,” she said.

“I’ve found the program is giving me the experience I need to kick-start my career in agriculture and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.”