Sugar industry scholarships

A scholarship that gives university students the chance to complete work placements at several Australian sugar mills has given Kristen Nel a stepping stone into a career with the nation’s largest sugar miller.

Ms Nel commenced work as the process improvement engineer at Wilmar’s Invicta Mill in January after completing her chemical engineering degree at QUT last year.

She applied for an Australian Sugar Industry Scholarship with the Sugar Research Institute while undertaking her engineering studies and was awarded the scholarship in recognition of her excellent results, drive and interest in the sugar industry.

“When I first went for the scholarship I hadn’t really experienced a processing facility,” Ms Nel said.

“The opportunity for on-site, practical experience from this program got me interested.”

Ms Nel completed a series of SRI-organised sugar mill internships in her final two years of study. Her placements included a stint at Wilmar’s Victoria Mill at Ingham.

Invicta Mill production superintendent James Wallace said Wilmar targeted graduate engineers who showed initiative and a willingness to learn.

“Kristen demonstrated this during her scholarship placements,” Mr Wallace said.

“She has a good understanding of chemical engineering foundations and her enthusiasm to learn and push through engineering problems has been exceptional.”

Ms Nel said her quick transition from study to work had been rollercoaster, particularly leaving family and friends on the Sunshine Coast to move to North Queensland.

“I had to take the leap and see what I could achieve,” she said.

“The sugar industry is challenging but the staff at Invicta Mill are very supportive and are helping me to develop my knowledge and skills in the industry.

“Working at the mill is unique as every day is different. The sugar industry offers a diverse range of unit operations to challenge me and develop my skill set.

“It provides an opportunity for me to not only apply my engineering foundations but also quickly learn how to manage people, which is something not taught at university.”

Australian sugar mills process about 30 million tonnes of sugarcane each year to produce about 4.3 million tonnes of raw sugar.

The industry directly employs about 10,000 people across the sugar supply chain and injects about $4 billion into the Australian economy annually.

Ms Nel was happy to share tips for students interested in an Australian Sugar Industry Scholarship and future employment in the sugar industry.

“Have passion and purpose to learn all you can from each work situation,” she said.

“This is best done by getting your hands dirty. The operators are often your best sources of knowledge so you will do well to lean in and listen, as innovation is not found in a textbook.

“With the scholarship placement program, I was able to gain valuable experiences that have greatly assisted me in obtaining employment.”

Applications for the 2021 Australian Sugar Industry Scholarship are now open.

Scholarships are awarded to students in their penultimate year studying chemical, mechanical, process or electrical engineering or science degrees with an interest in working in the Australian sugar industry.

Growing a career in agriculture

Tahlia Kinrade loved every minute of her time as a Trainee Extension Officer at Burdekin Productivity Services (BPS) through the Queensland Farmers Federation’s (QFF)’s Agricultural Extension Work Placement Program. Contributing to BPS’s goals of productivity, profitability, and sustainability for Queensland’s largest sugarcane-growing region certainly kept her busy throughout the year-long graduate program.

Tahlia majored in Ecology at the University of Queensland and has worked in a variety of roles from monitoring sea turtles on the beaches of a Malaysian island to picking produce for a farm in her hometown of Boonah in the Scenic Rim. She has a keen interest in sustainable land management; inspired by the rural region she grew up exploring, which is a patchwork of agricultural land and national parks.

“The opportunity to participate in the QFF program has taken my skills, knowledge and appreciation of the agricultural industry to new levels due to the quality training and support, and the mentors she had within BPS and other industry partners,” Tahlia said.

“One of my highlights was working alongside experienced professionals with a wealth of knowledge in agricultural extension, water quality and soil health project work.”

Tahlia assisted with two Great Barrier Reef Foundation funded water quality projects. One involved on-farm water quality monitoring that allowed growers and extension officers to compare the impacts of farming practices to reduce nutrient and chemical losses to neighbouring ecosystems such as the Great Barrier Reef and achieve productivity benefits.

Tahlia was also given the opportunity to lead a set of soil health-focused trials experimenting with council green waste as a soil ameliorant. Being trusted to execute the trial and project work independently, while also being able to draw on the expertise of colleagues, was a recipe for success for Tahlia. She is grateful to BPS for providing such a supportive work environment.

“The QFF program has equipped graduates with grassroots, practical experience and I feels this makes all the difference in solving complex natural resource management issues,” Tahlia said.

The Burdekin growers Tahlia had the opportunity to work alongside also imparted invaluable knowledge and experience.

“I’ve been blown away by the generosity of busy farmers who take the time to stand in the paddock with me and explain how a piece of machinery works or their perspectives on particular practices.

“That’s the best part of extension, it gets to the very heart of understanding land management decisions and you work with people to bring about practice change in a way that makes sense for their farming system.”

“I look forward to continuing to learn how to aid Reef recovery and resilience while maintaining productivity in coastal catchments.”

The Agricultural Extension Work Placement Program is delivered by the Rural Jobs and Skills Alliance (led by QFF) and funded by the Queensland Government’s Reef Water Quality Program and the partnership between the Australian Government’s Reef Trust and the Great Barrier Reef Foundation.