It’s a sweet development that’s certainly causing a buzz around industry: Next year, NSW high schoolers will be able to study beekeeping.
In an Australian-first, HSC students will have the option of doing a Certificate III in Beekeeping as a school-based traineeship, where they will be paid to work alongside professional apiarists.
“Yes, it’s the flavour of the moment - everyone is interested in it,” says Melissa Wortman, executive officer of the NSW Agrifood Industry Training advisory body.
“But the beekeeping population is also aging, and is looking for fresh, young talent to get into the industry.”
Mrs Wortmann said Department of Education representatives had been drumming up plenty of interest at high schools across the state, particularly in the Northern Rivers and Mid North Coast regions, where pollination services are in huge demand, on account of a booming horticulture industry.
“That area will have enough work all year round,” she said.
As such, the beekeeping traineeship pilot program will be launched across two showcase days at Grafton and Alstonville high schools on October 25 and 26 respectively.
“Obviously there are already school-based traineeships in ag and other industries - but this is the first time beekeeping has been done in Australia,” Mrs Wortmann said.
“We’ve already had other states contact us to see if they can get involved.”
The key now, she said, was attracting more commercial beekeeping mentors to ensure the program can be rolled out effectively.
According to industry figures, there are 5179 apiarists in NSW with less than 50 hives (26,250 total hives) and 552 apiarists with more than 50 hives (270,782 hives total).
Mrs Wortman said already several North Coast apiarists, and some in Sydney, had put their hand up.
“The feedback we’ve been getting is that the beekeepers wish they’d had something like this when they were in school.”
The initiative certainly has the backing of industry doyen and former DPI Technical Specialist of Apiculture Bruce White OAM, who said young people had been misinformed about bees.
“There’s not a great deal of young people taking it up - unless it’s something they’ve specifically been exposed to, they don’t know about it,” he said.
“I guess they’ve been told as kids that bees sting, so they don’t go near them.”
Mr White said modules in a Certificate III beekeeping course cover carpentry and woodworking skills, sourcing bees and housing them, learning bee diets, building a knowledge of flora, food safety and biosecurity requirements.
“It’s a real rounded outdoor job, and every year is different,” Mr White said.
“More than 65pc of the food we eat comes from bees. They’re the foundation of agriculture when you think about it.”
Suitable commercial beekeepers and queen breeders would need to employ any students for a minimum 120 days over 2.5 years, paying wages according to the National Pastoral Award ($9.71 per hour for year 11 students and $10.70p/h for year 12 students).
Department would cover the cost of training delivery and assessment.
Making a beeline into a sweet job?
According to Steve Maginnity, a surging need for pollination services across a diversifying ag spectrum is reason enough for beekeeping to be taught in schools. But he says it’s also a lucrative career path.
Interestingly, Mr Maginnity has a foot in each camp: He’s apiarist and an agricultural-science teacher at Alstonville High School, which, incidentally, will serve as one of launch sites for the HSC beekeeping traineeship in a fortnight.
“Beekeeping is back into the awareness of the public, mainly because of flowhives, but there’s more of a need for pollination in ag activity such as horticulture too,” he said.
Outside of the classroom, Mr Maginnity runs The Australian Native Bee Company, providing pollination services and selling wax and sugarbags.
“Beekeeping has had a resurgence, and for a good reason,” he said. “We have to feed more people as we head towards 2050. Horticulture is on the rise. And it’s also potentially a great career path.”
- Interested apiarists should contact Melissa Wortman at the NSW Agrifood ITAB at firstname.lastname@example.org or Bruce White at email@example.com.