The much-loved Collingwood Children’s Farm is undergoing a face-lift as it reopens it's gates following an eight month closure due to the pandemic - all thanks to 14 new staff members hired through Jobs Victoria initiatives.

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The Collingwood Children’s Farm is a sanctuary from city life. A place to reconnect with nature, where everyone is welcome.

But last year, this much-loved, not-for-profit social enterprise was understaffed and struggling to maintain its facilities and meet demand for community programs.

Just as it was beginning to review its systems, the pandemic hit, forcing it to close for eight months.

When life heaps fertiliser on you, grow a market garden

JobKeeper payments allowed the farm to retain most of its staff, and it was able to redeploy some team members by joining the Moving Feast Consortium and growing food for people in need. But no public-facing duties meant others had to stay home.

“COVID was a horrific time,” says Conor Hickey, the farm’s CEO. “We had to close and we had to stand staff down. It was precarious, we didn’t know when we would reopen.”

Then a lifeline came in from a Jobs Victoria initiative designed to create employment during the pandemic. This provided the farm with the funds to hire 14 new staff members for six months, in a mix of full- and part-time roles.

From horticulturalists and a carpenter to qualified education officers and community program support workers, Conor now had the expertise and people power she needed to really whip the farm into shape.

“We finally had the opportunity to employ all those additional hands to not only get the farm back on track, but also to expand, develop and improve our offerings to the general public.”

Among other achievements, the new team members have helped transform one of the farm’s paddocks into a market garden for Moving Feast. Their hard work has already produced over 3000 kilograms of fresh produce – including zucchini, basil, beetroot, spinach, rhubarb, corn and parsley – for people in need.

Inundated with excellent applicants

Conor advertised for all the positions through the Jobs Victoria online hub, and strongly recommends it to other employers as easy to use and a good source of quality candidates.

“We were inundated with excellent applicants,” she says. “A lot of people are aware of it now, and so a lot of people know that’s the place to go if you’re looking for a job.”

She also points to the hub’s customisable screening questions as helping to ensure only the most suitable candidates applied for each position.

“The screening questions were probably the best part about the whole thing,” she says, “because you could say: ‘Can you commit to 12 months? Have you had three years’ experience?’

“So you weren’t getting a lot of the applications that you would normally get, because people would have to tick yes or no – and if it was a no, it was an automatic dismissal.

“With other platforms, you can say what the position description is and say what you’re looking for, but you often get lots of applicants who don’t have the experience you’re looking for.”

A one-stop recruitment shop

The Jobs Victoria online hub is perfect for busy employers like Conor because, as she puts it, it’s a “one-stop shop” that retains all the information you need.

“I could see every single job that I’d advertised and every single application,” she says. “I could let other people in to review it, I could take notes, and I could see who I’d shortlisted and all their contact details. Everything’s there, so you don’t need to go searching through your email.”

On top of this, personalised support from a dedicated case worker also helped ensure frictionless flow.

“We had a case worker who worked specifically with us, and I was able to contact him whenever I needed to,” she adds. “If I needed a hand with anything, he was always available, so that was fantastic.”

Now that everyone is successfully on board, Conor is very pleased with her “fabulous” new hires, which have been such a breath of fresh air for the farm.

“They’re all ace, they’re incredible,” she says. “They’ve really boosted morale and it’s just given the organisation the facelift it needed.

“We were understaffed before COVID, and now we’re in a place where we can actually achieve all of the goals that we’ve been dreaming of achieving for a while.”

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