Written by Roley James – Hidden Valley Station
When I was asked to write an article for Central Station I had to pause and think for a while. I wondered what would be the most useful or interesting advice that I could give people in the industry or wanting to get into it?
Below are my thoughts on things that will help you find the right job and also leave the wrong job on as best terms as possible. I would like to stress that the below is my opinion only and does not reflect the policy’s or procedures of Hidden Valley Station.
So you want to get a station job?
There are a few things you should consider first. Are you prepared to take a potential pay cut from what you are doing (station work generally is long days)?
If you don’t already have substantial station skills you are not likely to be highly paid (and I don’t mean the three weeks you spent helping your uncle on his small farm). Treat station work like an apprenticeship, if you haven’t done the time, don’t expect to get the pay.
Now there are a few other things you need to think about, like operation type and methods. Do you want to work for a company or a family owned place? Each has their pluses and minuses; companies are more likely to have higher positions that you can work up to, family owned operations are more likely to give you a go at things you are interested in, i.e. welding, truck driving and machine operation (it won’t happen in the first week, you need to prove yourself first).
Also once you work out what structure you want to work under you need to work out if you want to work on a property that uses horses or not. Many places no longer use horses for a variety of reasons – they do have a mind of their own at times, however they are better to quietly handle mobs of cattle.
Picking the right place and getting the job
You want to spend a little time picking the right job. Your first job out bush will either leave you loving or hating it so choose carefully. You want to have a look around for a property with a good name. Don’t be afraid to ask about what the conditions are and it’s even better if you can talk to someone that works there and talk to them, it will help you work out if it’s right for you.
There is a few skills that are nearly always useful in the bush; mechanical, welding, building and cooking just to name a few. Be prepared to use all your skills to help you get the job but be upfront with your employer as to how much you would like to use your trade (if you have one).
When you apply for the job you need to look at what systems the employer has in place and follow those for a start. For example if they state to email your resume and you call up or send a Facebook message, you may be considered eager but more likely you have just nominated yourself as unable to follow instructions and have quite possibly just blown your chances.
After you have sent in your resume it’s not a bad idea to try and get in touch with your potential employer after several days. Many employers may take a week or more to decide and may be at an impasse deciding who will fit their operation best. This is when it is a good time to touch base with how keen you are, sometimes a phone call is best but pick your times (after normal work times is a good time to get the boss).
I think this topic is something so important that I have listed it on its own. As an employer I see a lot of resumes cross my desk. And unfortunately it can be the split second moment that gets yours through to the shortlist or has it filed in the round filing cabinet (the rubbish bin).
My recommendations are to make sure you have an up to date resume and you want it to be clear and simple. List where you have worked, the dates and a general description of what you did there, include a likely picture of yourself (it helps), add all your details and make sure you have references listed.
You need to have at least two references and some employers may want more. It’s important you pick the right ones, as any place worth working for is going to contact them. They will want to know what your work ethic is like, how you may fit into their team and what skills/weaknesses you have. You would not believe the amount of references that are called and reply with “they listed me as a reference? They must be mad as they didn’t leave here on good terms”.
Also make sure you list what relationship your reference has to you (Manager, supervisor or whatever for such and such company ect). Your potential employer is not likely to want to talk to your godmother Carol who tells them what a good little boy/girl you are.
If you haven’t had a job before it’s not a bad idea to talk to someone that knows you well (Scout group leader, school teacher, volunteer group who you help out with ect) that may be able to give a reference for you. If nothing else you will have shown yourself to have gone the extra mile. But don’t have someone supply an bullshirt reference as it will not help either you or your future employer. Nobody wants grapes when they purchased cherries…
Cattle stations are often isolated much like small communities and it’s important that people can live and work together. I believe employers have a responsibility to their employees to be careful who they bring into their station. After all it’s not easy to work with someone you don’t like when you spend all your time around them and can’t get away much.
Also your employer does not want to go through the time and effort of having you get there to turn around a day/week or whatever later and say “sorry, I want to go”. Or if you aren’t working out they do not want to fire you after you have spent your cash and time coming all the way up for a job. This is why it is so important for both parties to make sure that the job fits the person.
It is also worth noting that potential employers are likely to have a hunt about on social media so it’s not a good idea to have pictures up on Facebook or whatever that you would not want your future employer seeing. And FYI it’s great you love hunting/rodeo/B&S’s but prob not a great idea to have too many pictures/posts of them up there as they are likely to suspect you may be more interested in that than your job.
Wages and pay rises
Wages will quite often start in comparison to experience. But it’s not always that simple; different places do things very differently and nobody wants to pay a lot for something they don’t know, so be prepared to start a bit lower than you expect.
It’s not a simple job despite what people may tell you and you do need to get good at it before chasing high pay (mainly because the mistakes you make, the training you need and the things you break make you an expensive employee). This is one reason why places may move to contractors as it is a fixed price.
Keep in mind that an apprentice often starts at under $10 an hour and works their way up and can take four years to do so. Now if you have done the distance for a few years*, preferably at the same place or company it’s not unexpected to be getting decent wages or conditions (*you wouldn’t want a mechanic that has done each year of his trade at a different place working on your car would you?).
Now if you want to have THAT talk with your boss the best thing you can do is up skill yourself as much as possible and make sure you are putting in the distance for a while beforehand (after you mess something up is probably not a good time to talk to them FYI and worse, you may not even know you have done it so pick your time carefully).
Now wages can be a touchy subject but the best way to go about it is to catch your employer when they aren’t too busy and ask to have a chat about how you are going and if there is anything you need to do to be doing better. If they are happy with your performance it is likely to be a good time to ask “Would I be worth a pay rise or is there something I can do better to earn it?”.
It’s worth noting that there is nothing free out there and despite what unions and labor governments would have you believe, you can’t pay money you don’t make and I can tell you that a cattle station is always screaming for money to be spent on it somewhere so it’s not normally in great supply.
They might not be able to increase your wages but there might be other options available like room improvements or a small cottage, fuel perhaps or flexible working arrangements. Some places may even let you purchase and run cattle on the station.
There is a few things you need to know when it comes to wages (before you go negotiating), you need to know on what basis you are being paid (Casual, permanent or ABN, it shouldn’t be ABN unless you are a contractor) and what it is worth to your employer. It’s a good idea to become familiar with each and work out what is best for you and your employer.
As a general rule of thumb you should expect to get a pay rise after every 12 months at a particular business. And if you are really showing some skills or going the yards you may be surprised to find it happens in a lot less time.
Coming and Going
So you have the job and you aren’t sure what to bring? There is a few articles on Central Station that may help or you can talk to long term station hands. Some of the things you need may surprise you, but basics are sturdy comfortable work clothes and shoes plus a hat (a cloth farmers hat looks funny but does work), basic camping gear depending on job and a good supply of toiletries (and tobacco if you are a smoker). Also if you require medication you will need to bring a large supply of that as well.
Now if the job has proven to be a fizzer or you need to go (for whatever reason) there are a few simple ways to go about it. It’s a good idea not to pull out on the boss with a yard full of cattle as you will not do yourself any favours for future employment. Generally if you go to your boss and have a quiet talk along the lines of “Look I’m sorry but I would like to go, I want to try and leave on good terms so how would you like me to go about it?” you’ll be making the best of a not so great situation.
Generally an offer to finish work in a week or two will be appreciated however don’t do that unless you can honestly give 100% in that time or you will be seen as the runner who pulls up short of the finish line. Some employers may want you to leave immediately however most will appreciate the offer to finish your time. Try to behave in as professional manner as possible even if they don’t. And for the Lords sake (and future employment sakes) do NOT give a bullshit reason for going. It’s likely your employer doesn’t care and it doesn’t matter anyway, you are leaving and that’s it.
If there are problems at the workplace you may well be appreciated for listing them however it’s nearly always better to try and deal with them well before it reaches the stage you need to go. Sexual assault, harassment or bullying is never ok, should not be tolerated and is best taken straight to your employer well before this point unless they are the ones doing it (in which case get the hell out of there ASAP, but you shouldn’t have that problem as you will have taken the above steps and done your research before starting there).
Some closing thoughts
You may find it more difficult to obtain a job if you smoke, have a family/partner with you, have pets you wish to bring or have any serious medical conditions (your potential employer needs to know and be able to work with any of these otherwise you are likely to find the job not working out very quickly).
Medical conditions are very important to list as otherwise you can end up seriously ill/injured otherwise. Stations are often isolated and while there is a place for everyone, yours may not be at that particular place, there will be a place that is happy to have you or is able to work with you but you just have to find it.
One thing worth keeping in mind is that every place is different and no two are the same. The industry is made up of very different people and it is reflected in each operation.
One other thing worth thinking of is if you are a person that needs a lot of social contact or people around you (i.e. extrovert) you need to consider that as well and make your choice accordingly. It has never been so important as now when we are in quarantine lockdowns with all the pubs closed and town trips out (as a matter of fact we have a total lockdown here at Hidden Valley for the welfare of our staff and family). So if you do need a lot of social contact you would be either spending a lot of time on the phone or possibly going mad slowly.
Happy job hunting!