The New Zealand kiwifruit industry is gearing up for a boom, but smart young people are needed to keep it charging forward.
Zespri is introducing a graduate recruitment programme to bring in new industry leaders.
Two graduates from any discipline will be chosen to enter the 18-month programme, the first of its kind for the co-operative.
Neil Trebilco, president of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers, said attracting young people is one of the industry's biggest issues.
"We need to attract young, smart people into the industry, and then we need to train them," he said. "I think it's a great initiative."
He said the industry has high aspirations.
"There's a plan that's to double the horticulture industry export value by 2025, and our own target in the kiwifruit industry is to triple it."
He said to achieve this, a lot of innovation is required on orchards, but also the industry needs to invest in people with a range of skills.
"It's not just pruning," he said. "Because Zespri has a very wide range of responsibilities . . . there's openings for all kinds of expertise.
People with backgrounds in sciences, mathematics, business administration, and technology are in particular demand.
Trebilco said the industry will be increasingly technology-based.
"[The graduate programme is] obviously one initiative that Zespri is doing, but I'm hopeful that we'll have a range of initiatives."
Zespri global sourcing partner Bernadette Ryan-Hopkins said "We've designed our scheme to attract the best and brightest. It's not in direct response to [skill shortages], but we do recognise that as an industry-wide problem."
Starting on July 28, applications will be open for a month and there will then be a two to three-week screening and interview process.
Ryan-Hopkins said she expects successful applicants to start in January.
They will spend three months working in orchards and post-harvest facilities before working for six months in the Zespri head office in Tauranga.
The graduates will then spend three months in Asia and three months in Europe in Zespri's overseas operations.
Finally, they will return to Tauranga for another three months.
Ryan-Hopkins said the overseas experience is important in the multinational company.
"We are ultimately an export company," she said. "Nearly half of all our people are overseas."
The programme is open to graduates from all countries and from all educational disciplines.
Zespri will design a bespoke experience for each graduate. Depending on their background they will be assigned a business area and a senior executive who will act as a mentor.
Though ongoing employment is not guaranteed, Ryan-Hopkins said the idea of the programme is to provide long-term opportunities at Zespri.
"For the best and brightest, of course we'll welcome them back with open arms," she said. "We just need really awesome leaders in our business."
She said the company is experiencing growth and will have no problem placing impressive graduates.
"There's always opportunities within Zespri."
This is the pilot for the scheme, and Ryan-Hopkins said the company intends to keep it going "if not on an annual basis, certainly on a two-yearly basis".