Gap Year Career Tips: How to help your career when ‘Pickpacking’ around Australia

So, your plans for an overseas backpacking gap year are on hold and you have decided to travel around Australia. You have seen the government’s enticements to help farmers pick fruit and vegetables. You decide to give it a go. While some spontaneity is good, some forethought and planning would also help you gain the most benefit from your experience.

What would be helpful to know and do so that you stay safe and well, enjoy your year, and can use your experience to help your career? Here are some career tips that will help your career planning.

Before you set off

Know your rights: before you set off, learn as much as you can about your work entitlements, what you should be paid, how to find an ethical and legitimate employer, and how to avoid being exploited. While most people try to do the right thing, there have been reports, such as the Fair Work Ombudsman and McKell Institute, about how workers are exploited.

Finances: think about how much money you will need to cover necessities – food, travel, accommodation. Learn how to keep records of income and what you spend and save, and how to budget so you can fully enjoy your experience.

Research: learn about Australian agriculture and horticulture, regional and remote areas, the scope of the agricultural workforce. Read regional reports that give a sense of the environmental, technological, and social issues faced, such as digital agriculture, water, biosecurity, farming research.

Personal safety: Give some thought to your personal safety (physical, mental and online), how you will handle risky situations, threats (including bullying, harassment and abuse) and emergencies.

During your gap year

There are work and career-related skills and knowledge you will gain during your gap year. Keeping a journal will help record this experience and help you when later applying for jobs or courses.

Workplace safety: agriculture is one of the most dangerous places to work, so make sure you receive training in workplace safety, what hazards are involved, how to deal with them. Hazards include not only farm equipment, but also extended periods working outdoors in the sun.

Learnings: record what knowledge you gain about agriculture, horticulture, regional Australia, supply chains, types of work, equipment used, skills developed, people met. Record specific instances that show how you used your skills. Some of the main skills you are likely to use and develop are:

  • Problem solving: personal and work-related problems are approached by analysing the situation to work out what the problem is, deciding what the best approach is, and taking action to resolve the problem.
  • Communicating: work may include reading, writing, listening to, and talking with people. Examples include giving or receiving instructions, sharing information, taking orders, solving problems.
  • Teamwork: work may include working with others to get the job done. This work could include sharing information, helping out, showing others how to do something, solving problems.
  • Getting along with diverse people: you are likely to meet people with backgrounds that are different from yours, including nationality, age, education, gender, culture, religion. This experience could test your interpersonal skills, including your ability to work with, communicate with and understand people.
  • Handling change: During your gap year you are likely to face some challenges that mean adapting to changes to your living arrangements, working day, work practices, access to facilities and technology. How you handle these changes will reflect on your resilience, flexibility and ability to cope.
  • Customer service: If you are working in hospitality you will be expected to provide good customer service. Being able to explain what good customer service is and show that you consistently provide it, will be valuable experience and help with finding work in the future.

Personal qualities: There are personal qualities that appeal to employers and which you can consistently show so that you can later refer to these with other employers and gain positive references. These qualities include:

  • Reliable: particularly turning up when you are meant to and completing the work you are asked to do. No matter what the work is like, staying motivated will be favourably regarded.
  • Open-minded: being curious about how the world works, suspending judgement about people and places, and being willing to talk with a diverse range of people keeps you open to new experiences.
  • Initiative: means taking steps to solve problems and find solutions rather than waiting to be told or for someone else to do the job.

Self-awareness: take time to reflect on what you are learning about yourself and note this information. This knowledge could include understanding your blind spots, strengths, limitations, physical and mental capabilities, how you handle increased independence, challenges and obstacles, insights gained, shifts in interests.

Career information interviews: talk to many people to learn about the work they do, what interests them about it, how they got into it, what skills they use, what challenges they face. Such information can open up possibilities, shift your goals, and deepen your understanding of opportunities.

Voluntary contributions: Become involved in your local community. Volunteer to help in clubs and associations. This experience will deepen your understanding of the community, enable you to meet people, and widen your knowledge and experience.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.