It was of little surprise that the recent Federated Farmers and Rabobank survey had 36% of farmers saying it was difficult to recruit skilled and motivated staff. That isn’t just an issue for the primary sector, it is an issue for the country as we need to farm ourselves out of the crisis that was covid.
There have been several barriers to rural employment in the past, with the first being our image.
I believe that is changing because of the Prime Minister’s statements that we’ll need to farm our way out of the current crisis. That has been well promoted by Feds, who I think have done an excellent job of positioning our sector as mainstream and politically independent. The levy organisations, Beef + Lamb NZ and DairyNZ have supported that.
I also believe the organisations concerned have done a great job highlighting the conservation commitment of the sector and the results we’ve achieved. In addition with the lack of opportunity in the cities and the huge price of properties, a large number of people have moved to the provinces. This has been assisted by the fact that people can now work some, or all of the time, from home. That shows there is more to life than a late lunch on Lambton Quay or a dismal desk job in a big city.
What I hadn’t realised was the massive investment by the Government and the sector in highlighting both the opportunities and lifestyle of primary production and the jobs available, along with a comprehensive training package. Last year the Government allocated $19 million to try and get 10,000 people into the food and fibre sectors. As a result of that initiative, so far 3098 have found work, which is a promising start. The initiatives are many and varied. Locally, Taratahi has risen from the ashes and is offering free taster courses in agriculture. Two-thirds of the people on those courses have either entered employment or gone on to further study.
Those attending have varied from city unemployed, contractors to airline pilots. The courses are described as practical aimed at getting people work-ready, and “aim to show people what farming is really like”. Taratahi is currently working with MPI to both broaden the appeal of working in primary industry and removing as many barriers as possible. I also spoke to the Agriculture Industry Training Organisation’s (AgITO) executive general manager – customer development Andrea Leslie.
Coming from a rural background she is really bullish about our future, pointing out that enrolments have increased 200%. They’ve doubled since this time last year. She believes that the products that ITO is offering are meeting the industry’s needs and that there has been a marked improvement in both structures and programs at the organisation.
Leslie also says ITO staff are authentically connected to agriculture at all levels.
I also hadn’t realised there was an organisation called PICA. It’s the Primary Industry Capability Alliance and is supported by the Government, industry good groups and the AgITO. The chief executive Michelle Glogau describes some impressive initiatives to get young people into agriculture. These include having role models telling students what life is really like in farming. They’re also targeting teachers.
She explains that on-farm you can work, earn and learn at the same time.
She also believes that people were starting to move into agriculture pre-covid.
Go onto the PICA website – it is impressive. In addition, Lincoln University postgraduate enrolments are up 342%, which is just as impressive. Undergraduate and diploma enrolments are up 28%. Massey enrolments are up “between 20-30%”. Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor is pleased with progress.
“We were the first sector to launch a skills strategy and the second to launch a sector of vocational excellence,” he told Farmers Weekly. “All the components for attracting young people to agriculture are in place and it’s up to everyone in the sector to maintain the momentum.”
I started writing this article about the tragedy that 36% of farmers are struggling to find good, motivated staff. Having researched the issue, I’m convinced that is a temporary problem. The minister and the sector are to be congratulated for that. After all, why wouldn’t you move into agriculture? I regularly read about city folk who have two, three or, in one case I’m aware of, four jobs just to keep afloat.
I’m obviously biased, but who would spend 60% of their income on rent, travel long distances to work and pay a fortune for meat and vegetables at the supermarket, when you can live on the job with minimal rent, grow your own vegetables and be part of a sector vital to NZ’s future?
In addition, country schools offer a unique type of education and individuals and families are a lot safer in rural NZ
I rest my case.