OPINION: Migrants are a critical and valued part of dairying in New Zealand, filling skills shortages on farms when there aren’t enough local workers available.
The shortage is due to New Zealand’s closed borders, shutting out staff from overseas. In response, a number of training organisations are offering displaced local workers and jobseekers a basic grounding in the sector.
In the South Island, the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) is promoting its ‘An Introduction to Agricultural Contracting’ course – based at its Telford Campus, near Balclutha. This initiative was the result of SIT’s discussions with Rural Contactors NZ Ltd (RCNZ) and some key players in the contracting sector in Otago and Southland – who all wanted to do something positive to address the need for trained contracting staff.
Following expos at Queenstown and Te Anau, there has been significant interest from a wide range of potential workers, including displaced hospitality workers and existing farm workers looking for a change of direction, but wishing to remain in the rural sector.
The SIT course is six weeks long. Weeks one and two are based at Telford and covers health and safety, basic mechanics, tractor driving, towing and implement attachment.
Weeks three and four moves to the Invercargill campus, where – with the aid of the Richardson Group – the focus turns to driver training.
Here candidates will cover Wheels and Tracks (W&T) endorsements, Forklift OSH (F) endorsement, loads, fatigue management and defensive driving.
The final two weeks are conducted via a work placement, where topics will include Health and Safety, the application of standard operating procedures and basic mechanics – along with coaching overseen by experienced operators or contractors.
Throughout the training period, accommodation and meals are provided by SIT, while work placement accommodation is provided by the contractor.
Course organiser Debbie Rankin of SIT says they are receiving enquiries from many people, spread over a broad age range and from a wide mix of experience.
The north gets in on the act
Further north, AG Drive – based at Hautapu, near Cambridge – will soon be offering a five-day introduction course to agricultural contracting.
This will see groups of up to 20 candidates split into five groups of four people each. After spending two days in the classroom, they move on to three days of practical training in paddocks owned by the company. Subjects covered will include basic tractor operation, attaching trailers and implements safely, basic maintenance and understanding health and safety.
The course is being funded by the Ministry of Social Development, as the trainees will be on benefits or displaced by Covid. A pre-requisite for the course is passing a drug and alcohol test. With the first programme due in early August, current enquiries are coming in from around the Waikato, Bay of Plenty and Taranaki regions. Also likely to attend for ‘refresher training’ are staff from local contractors.
The initiative is being supported by WINTEC in Hamilton who are providing ‘Train the Trainer’ coaching, while businesses such as Claas Harvest Centres NZ, Giltrap AgriZone, Waikato Tractors and AGrowQuip are all loaning tractors or machinery.