New drive to train farm cadets into skilled farmers

The Waikato Farm Capability Society aims to get young school leavers and unemployed people into farming careers by ...
Loren Dougan

The Waikato Farm Capability Society aims to get young school leavers and unemployed people into farming careers by getting them alongside farmer employers and teaching them the core skills needed to progress up the career ladder.


Hopes are high that a farmer-grown, modernised version of the much-missed farm cadet system to be launched next month will ease farming's chronic skills shortage.

The new farm employment scheme, called the Waikato Farm Capability Society, was essentially an update on the old farm cadet system, Waikato Federated Farmers president Chris Lewis said.

The society is a collaborative effort between Federated Farmers, DairyNZ,  the Government, NZ Dairy Careers and Educators and economic development agencies. It has taken two years to build and was based on a pilot scheme operating in mid-Canterbury over the past year, Lewis said.

The Canterbury pilot scheme had been successful with 80 students and 44 farmers involved to date, he said.

"It's about bringing standards back to farming."

The Waikato project will be launched on July 7, when expressions of interest will be sought from farmers and potential employees. It is open to school leavers and unemployed New Zealanders looking for farming careers.

For school leavers the project will guarantee employment and for unemployed people provide a programme offering a realistic taste of farming and the basic skills required to qualify as an entry level farm assistant.

The society will support a selected school leaver in paid employment for up to three years to get them prepared for a senior level job by overseeing and managing recruitment, selection, employment, training and career development on behalf of the farmer employer.

That employer will also be supported in areas such as human resources, health and safety and training on farms.

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Lewis said the initiative would not compete with other education providers such as Primary ITO. Employees would be required to attend and complete tertiary training.

"There's going to be some drafting gates. We are not just going to take anyone. It's about standards and setting those standards and influencing change on farms."

Better pathways were needed from schools to careers in agriculture because there may be a time when farmers could not rely on immigrant labour to fill worker shortages, he said. While Taratahi and DairyNZ were involved in getting secondary school students interested in farming, that interest often waned once they left school.

"This is a scheme that takes people from the colleges who are are studying agriculture ... and tries to get them involved in jobs on farm. They will do the basic training through us and the ultimate goal is to have someone training two to three years into the scheme and successfully take on a herd manager role which would require them to do a level four Primary ITO course."

The employee would have to complete a skills checklist before graduating so prospective employers knew their capabilities. Lewis said he had interviewed prospective employees for a management role only to find they lacked the required training.

The employee would be given time off to attend classes and farm work would be designed to match classroom teaching. The farmer employer also had to take a mentor role in what the employee was learning.

"The ultimate goal is to have a herd manager or better. We are not aiming for the sky, but just the [farming skills] basics," Lewis said.

"When someone employs one of our trainees they will already know what they are capable of. When a candidate joins our program they can be confident in the learning and on-farm development they will receive and the career opportunities it will open because of our standardised, peer reviewed, on farm learning and progression process."

A graduate of the old farm cadet scheme, Lewis said he was able to progress through the industry because he was taught basic skills well.

Quality control was critical for the society's success with both the employer and employee facing dismissal if certain standards were not met. 

That control would be overseen by a co-ordinator who would have a set number of workers and employers and would act as an independent contact if issues arose. The co-ordinator would oversee the student's welfare, offer advice on life skills and act as an intermediary between the employee and employer. 

If there were personality clashes between an employer and employee, the cadet could move to another employer signed up to the society so they were retained in the scheme.

Potential employers would be vetted to ensure standards were met. If they failed to meet the required level in certain areas, they would be coached.

Farmer-employers signing up for the scheme would be asked to pay a fee - early indications are that it could top $1000 - but Lewis said it would be premature to comment.

He said while a sign-up cost might deter some farmers from participating, their contribution would remove reliance on government funding and ensure the longevity of the society.

The scheme will get underway in the 2017-2018 season. Between now and next June, Lewis hopes to build enough momentum and interest among farmers to match numbers through the Ashburton scheme.

"Farm recruitment season usually begins in January-February next year and we want to be in a position that we are all set up, ready to go and in the front of mind for farmers."




 - Stuff

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