‘Life-changing experience’: Participants reflect on national leadership programs

Hayley Abbott (front row, 3rd from left) with her Australian Rural Leadership Program cohort

In March 2022, Tuna Australia Program Manager Phil Ravanello graduated from the National Seafood Industry Leadership Program (NSILP), and Tuna Australia member Hayley Abbott graduated from the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP). We spoke with Phil and Hayley about their experiences and key learnings.

Can you tell us about your leadership progams?

Phil: The NSILP is a focused and specialised leadership program for leaders in the seafood sector delivered by Affectus for the past 23 years. It is a 12-month program funded by the Fisheries Research and Development Corporation.

Hayley: The ARLP has been delivering the ARLP for many years and celebrated its 30th year in 2022.  It is a 15-month leadership development course for individuals committed and ready to respond to regional, rural and remote Australia’s most complex challenges and biggest opportunities.

Why did you apply? What did you hope to get out of it?

Phil: The NSILP is highly regarded by industry graduates and considered a “rite of passage” for anyone who has been working in the seafood industry for more than a couple of years. So, it has been on my bucket list for several years.

Hayley: I was encouraged to apply to the program through the Tuna Australia CEO David Ellis, who is an ARLP Alumni. He raved about the program and its unique challenge-based and experiential approach to learning. I wanted to push myself and equip myself with the skills necessary to become a better leader for the whole fishing industry, the local community and my family’s small fishing business.

Hayley Abbott (2nd from left) at her ARLP graduation

What activities did you undertake as part of your leadership program?

Phil: Originally, the course involved three residential workshops over 12 months, including a final presentation at Parliament House. Thanks to COVID we only managed one face-to-face workshop at the Gold Coast, and then finally finished the course online after 18 months. The course was a mixture of group and individual activities, excursions (during workshop 1), talks on leadership from guest speakers (Affectus alumni), and preparing and delivering a final team presentation of our major project informed by a mission statement and objectives. My project team delivered a synopsis of best practice research, development, and extension activities from around Australia using a GIS platform (Arc GIS story maps) and other interactive tools.

Hayley: The course is strategically set out so you are placed in situations that may make you uncomfortable (in a safe environment) to push yourself past your perceived boundaries and show you what you are capable of. This takes place in a range of different physical locations, depending on what learnings you are undertaking—from Canberra to remote and isolated areas, as well as domestic and international online meetings.

Phil, you attended the Seafood Directions Conference on 13-15 September 2022 as part of the program. What did you get out of attending?

Phil: Our NSILP cohort was fortunate to receive a bursary to attend Seafood Directions as a reward for not being able to complete the NSILP course in person. NSILP did give us several tasks during the conference, such as leading panel discussions and hosting a networking session. Outside of my commitments to NSILP at the conference, I enjoyed catching up with many people from the industry that I have not seen for many years and establishing connections with people and businesses that I know will benefit Tuna Australia in the future.

Tuna Australia's David Ellis (L) and Phil Ravanello (R) at the Seafood Directions 2022 conference dinner

What did you learn? How are you applying these learnings?

Phil: The program is designed to put you outside your comfort zone. If you are shy, they will stick you in front of an audience. If you are extroverted, they will make you work through issues yourself. One of the key things I learned is to embrace differences in other people. Our project group could not have been a more disparate bunch of people…kind of like the fishing sector :)  Yet we managed to work well as a group by recognising each other’s strengths and weaknesses, especially when it came to dividing tasks or putting someone forward to speak on behalf of the group.

I am working hard to be a better listener. I take a lot more time to understand an issue than I may have previously, which is a conscious decision on my behalf to make sure I am acting on full information.

Hayley: There were many learnings from the course and to this day I still reflect on situations that now influence my decision making and actions daily through my role on the Tuna Australia board and operating my business. The one learning with the biggest influence my decision making would be becoming more aware of the people, places, and things around me and how my actions influence them. Another is the learning made though networking with other course participants from different industries, both agricultural and government organisations. I found that often we all have similar issues and challenges and if we worked together, we could have a greater impact on change.

What is your advice to other people considering applying for a leadership program?

Phil: The NSILP can benefit anyone working in management roles in the seafood industry. The course really unpacks what it means to be a leader, places you in difficult or foreign situations to navigate, and supports the creation of some amazing contacts and friendships.

Hayley: I would recommend anybody from any industry and any leadership level to apply for the program. It is something that you will not regret!!

Any final thoughts?

Phil: FRDC has been an active funder and long-term supporter of the NSILP program, which is a testament to its success. The Tuna Australia board recently agreed to financially support members who wish to apply for the NSILP course to assist with travel and accommodation costs.

Hayley: I would like the thank FRDC for giving me the opportunity to participate in this life-changing experience.


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