A sharp increase in demand for agricultural training is putting pressure on the sector, as farmers continue to struggle with a shortage of skilled workers.
“There is a significant increase in interest from young people in the sector and we cannot meet the demand at this time,” said William Beetham, member of the board of directors of Federated Farmers, who is the spokesperson. organization for education, skills and training.
At the same time, the closure of international borders due to the coronavirus pandemic means fewer people have come from abroad to work on farms while others have left, leaving farmers struggling to fill positions. .
“There is currently a strong demand from farmers for qualified people,” says Beetham. “There is a real divide there. “
Beetham says farming has been more actively promoted as a career option and has become popular thanks to social media sites like farm4lifenz, nzfarming, will.to.livenz, nzyoungfarmers and bergeressnz.
“It’s great for an old bugger like me to say it’s great on the farm, but with the growth of social media, when kids see their peers telling stories about what it’s like to live and to work on a farm broadens their horizons, ”he says.
CHRISTEL YARDLEY / STUFF
Phil Hawke is struggling to find agricultural contractors due to Covid-19.
The food and fiber sector constitutes the bulk of the country’s merchandise exports and has helped keep the economy going during the pandemic as tourism has been hit by the border closures.
The government has attempted to attract more people to work in the sector, with $ 19.3 million from the 2020 budget set aside to help attract and train the recently unemployed and grow the sector’s workforce. primary school of 10,000 people.
Training in the sector is being overhauled as part of the vast government overhaul of vocational education, which aims to integrate polytech and workplace learning, ensure consistency of qualifications, improve equity and better link training to industry needs.
Primary industries were one of the areas the government targeted for free training last year as part of an initiative to develop skills in sectors where there was employer demand during the country’s recovery. after Covid-19.
The primary ITO, which trains people while they work, has seen a significant increase in demand.
In the first six months of this year, it registered 1,011 new agricultural apprenticeship registrations, up from 265 in the same period last year and 580 in the same period in 2019. Farmer training covers commodities dairy, deer, sheep, beef, pork and poultry.
While last year’s numbers were likely affected by the lockdown, it still represents a big increase, said Andrea Leslie, executive general manager of Primary ITO.
The pandemic has identified gaps in the local workforce, especially for the dairy industry, she said.
“We have seen a significant demand for training due to a significant increase in the number of New Zealanders entering the agricultural industry,” says Leslie. “We are attracting more and more people to the agriculture industry as a real career path. “
Demand is based on the availability of jobs, increased public funding and the possibility of well-paid work in a promising sector, she said.
“Primary industries are starting to be seen as a more attractive sector,” she says.
It’s not just on-the-job training that’s in demand with Lincoln Specialty Agricultural University, noting that its national enrollments in the first semester of this year were the highest in more than 10 years and significantly ahead of the ‘goal.
JOHN BISSET / STUFF
Timaru farmer George Steven is struggling to find staff for his dairy farm due to the global lockdown.
Six of the university’s sub-degree programs in specialty food and fiber areas have become free due to the government’s targeted training and learning fund, and the university has also removed fees for some. of its postgraduate programs.
Acting Vice-Chancellor Professor Bruce McKenzie says the university is uniquely positioned to meet the growing needs of the agriculture sector for job-ready graduates.
The university’s agriculture and horticulture programs saw the largest increase in enrollment, up 23%.
Wairarapa’s Taratahi Agricultural Training Center, which went into liquidation in 2018, was reopened for introductory classes in July last year in response to Covid to try to fill some of the training gap agricultural.
New projects are also being set up like Growing Future Farmers, where people are trained on the farm by farmers, but that is not enough to meet the needs, says Beetham.
Landcorp, New Zealand’s largest agricultural company, is feeling the impact of the labor shortage with many more vacancies this year than last year.
As of April, Landcorp had 22 vacancies in its dairy business, more than double the 10 vacancies in the same period last year.
Dairy workers typically resign in May, but Landcorp saw more vacancies later in the season and had to resign some vacancies more than once.
The company advertised 17 positions in its dairy business in May of last year, but this year it had 25. In June, when most dairy workers had already moved and settled into new roles, it announced 21 positions, more than double the 10 it had last year, and in July it had 14 vacancies, almost triple the five vacant positions in the same period last year.
“We are experiencing shortages, employee changes later than expected and more difficulty finding people from agriculture who do not have drug, alcohol or visa issues to face,” said Landcorp Managing Director Steven Carden.
With low unemployment and skilled migrants leaving the country, sometimes due to visa delays, Landcorp has had to push workers out of their current jobs to join them, or get people to change careers, which then requires a training.
The company has attracted many career changers who have previously worked in other fields such as retail managers, professional chefs, mechanical engineers, and IT professionals.
“They love to be outdoors, working with their hands and working in a high performing team,” says Carden. “We strive to promote this way of life to people who have never considered farming as a career choice.
Yet the company competes with many other industries for the same people, from construction to commercial fishing and agriculture.
“We can no longer count on people already trained in agriculture to join us,” says Carden. “We are all competing for the same talent and we need to differentiate ourselves from other opportunities in the market to attract people to agriculture and retain our current skilled workforce. “
A history of negative connotations in farming schools and a shift to more urban environments has already prevented some people from viewing farming as a career.
Carden says farmers need to be smart people who are committed to protecting the environment, have a scientific understanding, compassion and curiosity in caring for animals, and respectful of technology.
Landcorp invests in vocational training through primary ITO, accompanies cadets in the Growing Future Farmers program, and supports leaders through programs like Kellogg and Nuffield.
One of his new hires is agricultural technician Bella Taylor, a 22-year-old agricultural science graduate from Lincoln who has worked on five farms in Te Anau since November last year.
Coming from a small dairy farm in the Bay of Plenty, Taylor is of Ngāi Tai ki Tāmaki and Ngāti Porou descent and attended university on a scholarship from the First Foundation which involved summer work experience at Landcorp. .
“I always knew I wanted to get into farming because I love animals and I love working outdoors and on the land,” she says. “But at the same time, I’m motivated enough to want to protect the environment and keep it good for future generations.”
Taylor has specialized in water management and says she has many opportunities to continue learning in her new role.
“It’s different every day,” she says. “If you love the outdoors then this is a great place to live.