Ensuring supply of skilled staff

Last updated 08:02 01/10/2013

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OPINION: As our rural economy in Southland continues to expand, the need for skilled staff to support that growth also increases, writes Bill English (National) in From the Beehive.

There has been debate around the province recently about ways to address the staffing gap.

Some farmers, particularly in the dairy sector, say acquiring good-quality staff is difficult - good people are hard to find.

This is a concern when we consider that without workers rural businesses can not grow.

So how do we get young people on to the farm?

Southland secondary schools are doing a great job of promoting agriculture to students.

Schools like Central Southland, Northern Southland, Menzies, Waiau, Gore and St Peter's Colleges are just some of the locals putting emphasis on encouraging young people to consider a career in agriculture. Dedicated agricultural teachers work with careers advisers to ensure young people choose the right path.

There are visits to Telford and Lincoln by Southland young people and field trips to farms around the province.

Today's students are well-versed in the opportunities in the rural sector, with organisations like DairyNZ and Beef and Lamb NZ, and businesses like Fonterra and the Alliance Group good at promoting themselves.

The Agriculture Industry Training Organisation, which has 12 offices around the country including Invercargill, has over 12,000 people in training every year and supports students within schools and on the farm.

The Government is also keen to provide the rural sector and young adults with more opportunities to succeed. We want to help students get the skills and qualifications that they need as we build a more competitive, productive economy.

Earlier this month National announced it will be making all foundation education fees-free for people aged 20 and 24.

At the same time, we're going to extend the Youth Guarantee Scheme to 18- and 19-year-olds.

This means that from 2014, all New Zealanders under 25 will be able to access fees-free level 1 and 2 education courses - whether that's in a Youth Guarantee programme, at a secondary school or with a tertiary education provider.

This is a significant Government commitment to provide students with the skills required for higher level vocational study, training and employment. It's also a good place to start when we look at addressing the ongoing labour shortage on farms in Southland.

» Bill English is the electorate MP for Clutha-Southland.

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