Wanted: young farm workers for the future

Need a sharemilker? How about employing a foreigner? Or perhaps a young New Zealander?

At the same time as the agricultural sector needs a big boost in the workforce, it has become harder to entice young people on to farms.

But it is not just a question of working on farms. The primary sector is facing a significant shortfall in skilled staff across the board, as the Government attempts to meet the ambitious target of doubling exports by 2025.

Within the primary sector, according to the Ministry for Primary Industries' report People Powered, support services is the area of most acute need, followed by horticulture, forestry, the arable industry, dairy and seafood. Only the red meat and wool sector envisages a fall in workers by 5100.

Officials and educators are working to provide young people with the opportunities and skills to take up a career in primary industries, either through trade academies or the youth guarantee fees-free provision.

The trade academies - places like Taratahi Agricultural College near Masterton - put students on farms for up to two days a week to earn marks towards NCEA level 2, an area where New Zealand students are performing poorly.

Under the guarantee fees-free provision, 16 to 19-year-olds who have left school without NCEA level 2 can return to an educational institution without having to pay.

Both the trade academies and the guaranteed fees-free have been in operation since 2012. Arthur Graves from the Ministry of Education said early results were positive.

"The really exciting thing is the numbers staying at school, especially Maori students," he said.

Of those who attended a trade academy, 99 per cent remained in school compared to 87 per cent for those who did not participate. Of those offered the guarantee of fees- free education, 90 per cent stayed in an educational institution compared to 75 per cent without the guarantee.

Graves said it was the third year the trade academies had been in operation. Demand has seen numbers double, with 4500 places now available at 11 schools and 11 tertiary institutions. Farming accounts for 15 per cent of the places.

Taratahi chief executive Donovan Wearing said there was a large range of job possibilities for students once they graduated.

"Our farms are our classrooms, our approach is real training, real farming. Most of our graduates will go on to become dairy assistants, general farm hands, or shepherds.

"But we're also in the business of training technicians, in areas like artificial breeding or dairy."

Between 90 and 95 per cent of students obtained full-time jobs. Female students made up about 30 per cent of the total roll, but Wearing said this ought to increase.

"The agricultural industry is missing out on a huge potential if it thinks that farming is just for boys," he said.

"People also see it as hard work, long hours, and not a thinking job, whereas the more you investigate it, it really is a profession," Wearing said.



Primary sector areas of need.-

Support services: 32,000

Horticulture: 7800 Forestry: 5300

Arable: 4700

Dairy 2300

Seafood: 1100

The Dominion Post