Farm apprenticeship programme to reduce reliance on migrant workers

A new apprenticeship scheme has been designed to attract more young people into the dairy industry.
ROBYN EDIE/STUFF

A new apprenticeship scheme has been designed to attract more young people into the dairy industry.

Southland farmers are hoping a dairy apprenticeship scheme will attract the "best and brightest" to the region.

The programme, which was launched in Invercargill last week, was the brain-child of Federated Farmers and Primary ITO to provide a training pathway for youths wanting to enter the dairy industry.

Federated Farmers Southland chairman Graeme McKenzie said while the dairy industry in New Zealand continued to flourish, primary industries had become a "fallback option" and was not attracting the best and brightest young people into the industry.

As a result, a heavy reliance on migrant workers has developed, especially in the south, he said.

READ MORE: 1400 immigrant workers employed on Southland's 900 dairy farms

The three-year apprenticeship scheme aims to increase the capability and capacity of young people going into the dairy industry through a work environment which supports training and professional development. There are hopes the scheme will reduce the reliance on migrant labour.

The Ministry for Primary Industries has stated the primary industries will need 50,000 more qualified workers in the next eight years.

Federated Farmers will be identifying employers who can offer a quality work environment, support on-job training  and who have sustainable dairying goals and resources to support training and career development.

McKenzie said being an employer would be an opportunity to gain motivated staff, as well as grow their own management and human resources skills.

"We know that apprentices will thrive not only with good trainers but with good managers."

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Primary ITO general manager of business and industry partnerships Anne Haira said primary industries were battling with the "people challenge", where not enough people were entering the industry.

Perceptions and stereotypes about the industry needed to change, and worker quotas were not going to be met without tapping into the urban populations, she said.

The organisations are trying to get 200 apprentices signed up for the pilot from schools, pre-employment initiatives or those already working on dairy farms.

Haira said the scheme would give young people an opportunity to learn while they earn in an exciting and innovative environment.

The Primary ITO is in charge of recruiting the apprentices, as well as arranging the formal training towards the NZQA-recognised qualifications and the farm visits to check with the students.

Southland dairy farmers Don and Jess Moore credit their progression in the industry to hard work and education.

In 2008, the couple went managing, and three years later became lower order sharemilkers. By 2012, they were 50:50 sharemilkers and in 2014 they won the New Zealand Sharemilker/Equity Farmer of the Year award.

Some 10 years on, Don supervises 10 dairy farms for Dairy Holdings, and Jess does some compliance work. Meanwhile, they're still milking 750 cows on a 50:50 sharemilking contract.

"Everything that we tried to do has only been achievable through education, by fully utilising opportunities," Don said.

He said his staff weren't just farmers, they were rural professionals, and education played a big part in that.

Despite coming out the other end of the dairy downturn, Don said he had sen a lot of people become disillusioned with the industry and its future.

"It's programmes like this that are going to keep the awareness alive.  The pathways change but the goals can still be the same."

 - Stuff

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