Lindy Maurice has already parlayed her childhood love of horses into a rewarding career in the thoroughbred industry. She now wants to do the same for a whole new generation in what could be her most important project.
While she has worked to promote the thoroughbred industry with some of the biggest names in the world, it was a return to the grass roots that was her light-bulb moment for Thoroughbred Industry Careers, launching this week.
Critical staff shortages have become a major inhibitor for the growth of breeding, bloodstock and racing operations across Australia. Maurice is confident that her not-for-profit organisation can help safeguard the long-term future by changing the way the industry finds its people.
No clear path
"The catalyst was going back to Pony Camp with my small children and that brought back a lot of memories for me. It was this one interaction I had with a parent who asked me about potential job opportunities for her son - it prompted me to start thinking about what insight we were providing," she told TDN AusNZ.
"What personally motivates me is remembering the frustration I felt as a young person knowing I wanted to work in racing but having no easy pathway to get in or knowledge of the multitude of career opportunities. This was before the internet era!”
"What personally motivates me is remembering the frustration I felt as a young person knowing I wanted to work in racing but having no easy pathway." - Lindy Maurice
"I believe if you have true passion and love of horses, a career in this industry completes your life as it has done mine and for so many other people I know. The thought of young Aussie kids not knowing about all the opportunities in this industry bothered me enough to spend the last 18 months trying to work out how to change the status quo."
While some were attributing the shortage to a lack of willingness for a new generation for 'hands-on' manual labour, for Maurice, that didn’t speak to finding a solution.
"I don’t see any value in blaming a generation of young people for our staffing problems.”
“Generations change and will continue to change – it’s not possible to turn back the clock - so invariably it is up to every industry to change too, otherwise we run the risk of not being a viable employer in the future," she said.
Searching for change
For the past 18 months, Maurice has thrown herself into researching how to resolve what so many people she spoke to were telling her was the industry's biggest issue.
She began attending inter-school equestrian events and went to career evenings and spoke to those who should have been the thoroughbred industry's next pool of talent.
"I did a focus group with high school students who represent their schools’ equestrian team to find out what they knew about racing and careers. Alarmingly only one person could name something about racing and this is when I knew that we had a job to do," she said.
Armed with a thorough understanding of the problem, Maurice then travelled overseas to source a solution.
"In April this year, I flew to Ireland and England, reviewing how they recruit, train and educate their workforce. I met with the Irish National Stud, RACE Ireland, Horse Racing Ireland’s ‘Work in Racing’ team, the British Racing School, the Pony Racing Authority, Britain’s Racing to School’s Charity, the National Association of Racing Staff, Racing Welfare and the British Horse Racing Authorities (BHA’s) Careers in Racing team – this research was invaluable and cemented for me what we needed to do here," she said.
No quick fix
With that in mind, she set about shoring up support of the major players to provide the resources needed to make a major impact.
She has brought together the giants of the industry, including Adrian Bott and Gai Waterhouse, Arrowfield Stud, the Australian Turf Club, Chris Waller Racing, Godolphin Australia, Lindsay Park Racing and McEvoy Mitchell Racing to address the issue that many believe is the greatest threat to the ongoing prosperity of the industry.
Watch: Lizzie Jelfs tells how her career progressed from riding horses to media
"There is no quick fix," she said.
"We are developing an end to end plan which starts with strong grass roots engagement to create positive awareness of our sport."
"We have built a recruitment marketing brand which promotes all the careers and the pathways to engage with core target markets.”
“We are bolstering the current education and training options to include some programs with an accommodation element for those students who don’t live close to training and we will be looking at ways to better retain the current workforce."
At its most basic level, the primary goal of Thoroughbred Industry Careers is ensuring the right pathways are in place to source the approximately 5000 additional people that the thoroughbred and racing industry - which already employs 75,000 people - will need, to continue its growth in the coming five years.
It's a plan as impressive as it is ambitious.
For those who have worked with or alongside Maurice through her career, her ambitions won’t surprise. Her inspiration to solve the problem is driven by passion.
"I had no way of knowing how to get into it or even the types of jobs you could do and when I asked a careers person at school they looked at me like I had two heads." - Lindy Maurice
Growing up in the small country town of Walcha, with a Mum who was an amateur jockey, she spent much of her upbringing on horseback.
"There wasn't a lot to do there other than ride horses." she said.
Watch: How Adrian Bott got his start
It was in late high school she took up the opportunity to work as trackwork rider in the country. But even then there was no clear pathway to working as a professional in the thoroughbred industry.
"I had no way of knowing how to get into it or even the types of jobs you could do and when I asked a careers person at school they looked at me like I had two heads," she said.
"I remember it being a real struggle to study for Uni exams in November with the Spring Carnival on, I would be glued to the television the entire time. Gai Waterhouse was a big part of why I wanted to work in the industry, I found her incredibly inspirational."
The big picture
One of Maurice’s first marketing roles in the industry was working for Aushorse.
"John Messara was Chairman and the board was made up of the major commercial breeders - I was to look after the International Inward Buying Program which the breeders were spearheading," she said.
Messara's commitment to the big picture had a massive influence on Maurice and she describes him a significant mentor.
"Some people will always just worry about what is affecting their business today, he thinks beyond that and leads by example." - Lindy Maurice on being mentored by John Messara
"When I worked for John Messara, he probably worked on Arrowfield 10% of the time, the rest he was working on how to improve the breeding industry and so invariably he teaches you to think about the big picture always," she said.
Watch: Julian Blaxland's story
"Some people will always just worry about what is affecting their business today, he thinks beyond that and leads by example."
"I also worked very closely with John Kelly during my Aushorse tenure and then later directly on Newhaven Park. John always keeps you thinking, which I love - you can never predict how his mind works.” she said.
Maurice sees that influence of Messara and Kelly in the way she has built Thoroughbred Industry Careers from a thought-bubble 18 months ago into a multi-pronged strategic approach to solving a significant issue.
"There was a moment with this initiative where it could’ve been commercialised into a recruitment business… that probably would’ve been a simpler and quicker process but it wouldn’t have achieved the goal I set out to do," she said.
"For the industry to become a first-choice employer for those who have a love of horses or racing and for those who do choose a career in the industry, for them to live their best life doing so." - Lindy's long-term goal for the program
But it was another mentor, in Godolphin's Diana Cooper, which helped Maurice to turn her TIC concept into reality.
"She is again a big picture person and last November when I was at a bit of a stalemate with this project, she and I met in Scone. She got exactly what I was trying to do and was so supportive - to have her unwavering support on this project along with Vin Cox, Ross Cole and Emma Ridley kept me going," she said.
Maurice has generated an abundance of industry support and with the concept now a reality, her long-term goal for TIC is crystal clear.
"For the industry to become a first-choice employer for those who have a love of horses or racing and for those who do choose a career in the industry, for them to live their best life doing so," she said.
TDN AusNZ is a proud supporter of Thoroughbred Industry Careers and will assist in driving the creation of industry participant stories to be told through the marketing initiatives. If you want to tell your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org and join in on the campaign #shareyourcareer