Thursday, 08 February 2018 08:55

Primary industries – a great career choice

Written by  Tessa Nicholson
Primary ITO’s CEO Dr Linda Sissons. Primary ITO’s CEO Dr Linda Sissons.

Primary ITO’s CEO Dr Linda Sissons, has a long career in vocational education, but it has only been in the last three years that she has “dived” into the primary sector.

Despite its importance in terms of employment and exports, she believes it is an area that has been short changed when it comes to the educational sector. For too long she says, careers within the primary sector have been considered as a hereditary pathway, or something teachers encouraged students to do because they felt they were not suitable for university. That is an attitude she is determined to change.

“We want to completely reverse that and have it as a number one career choice. Not just for young people who live in provincial rural areas, but also young people who live in cities,” Dr Sissons says. “This is one of the most important sectors in our economy and if we don’t have people choosing a career in primary industries and that becoming the absolute pinnacle of their ambition, then the sector won’t be able to continue to enjoy that top spot.”

Things are changing already, she admits, with a lot of work being undertaken in schools promoting primary industry as a career. That is helping to open young people’s eyes to the potential and ensuring these career paths are viewed as attractive.

‘We are working very hard on it,” she says. “We have set some quite ambitious goals to increase the number of school leavers who choose primary industry and I think we will see a difference. But it will take a year or so.”

In terms of the wine industry, Primary ITO is concentrating on the viticulture side. (Competenz works with wineries – see next story). The ITO is directed and advised by an industry partnership group that includes individuals from the following companies Villa Maria, Mission Estate, Cloudy Bay, Indevin, Pernod Ricard, contracting companies Hortus and Seasonal Solutions Coop along with representatives from Wine Marlborough and NZ Wine, it is chaired by Julie Bassett of Constellation Brands.

“The IPG have created a career pathway for people employed in viticulture and it goes from level two, (which is the equivalent of an industry new entrant) right through to a level five Diploma.  We are working on the development of increased options at the higher levels.”

Proving the point that the qualifications are now being sought after, in 2017 there has been a 37 percent increase in the number of people undertaking the level four qualification. “Last year it was less than 20 percent, so we are really pleased to see that progression. It means they are seeing a career in front of them.”

Depending on previous skills, students can come in at varying levels Dr Sissons says. Level two or three is the equivalent of having completed high school, while others who come in later, after already having some form of experience, may decide to begin at level three or four.

To undertake Primary ITO qualifications, the employee needs to enter into a two-way contract with their employer. Dr Sissons says that is an important part of the programme, which ensures the worker has the materials and the workplace experiences to complete their qualification, while also showing the employer that they have a worker who is keen to progress.

Given the progress so far, she is under no illusion this won’t continue.

“The very fact that our wine industry has that target of $2 billion exports by 2020 shows it is an industry that is going to continue to grow. The quality of the exports is growing exponentially, so having the people with the skills and the commitment to a career in this industry – you would have to say the smart money is on those who decide to go for that career.”

For more information on Primary ITO’s viticulture career progression pathway, see left, or visit 


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