Skilled Job Creation Crisis

31 Oct 2019

Despite the horticulture industry experiencing year on year growth, the headline is that the number of learners studying agriculture and horticulture has dropped from 67,362 in 2013 to 45,557 in 2018.  To June 2019, export revenue was up by 8.7%, yet our industry needs another 49,900 skilled workers by 2025.

Every sector in New Zealand is short of skilled and reliable workers at nearly all levels.  Record low unemployment numbers are taken to mean there are simply not enough motivated workers for all sectors of the economy to function to their full potential.  Based on Work and Income’s latest figures, around 143,000 people whom benefits are paid are of working age, but only 4.8% of these people are receiving job seeker support. 

This is means that there are less than 7000 potential workers coming from Work and Incomewho we are in competing with all other sectors for, which frankly does not make a lot of sense. The rural sector is also facing an aging workforce and movement from rural to urban New Zealand.  This makes the need for us to develop a new and vibrant workforce all the more critical. 

To help address the skilled worker shortage, earlier this week, the Minister of Agriculture, Damien O’Connor launched the Food and Fibre Skills Action Plan

This plan highlights the critical need for action for the rural sector, where more than 350,000 people are employed.  This number represents one in seven working New Zealanders. The primary sector’s export contribution is $46.4 billion, which collectively accounts for 11% of New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product. 

The action plan aims to support the development of a workforce that can meet the current and future needs of the food and fibre sectors by delivering on the following four focus areas:

  1. Knowledge – the food and fibre sectors being able to articulate their workforce needs.
  2. Attraction – the food and fibre sector’s education and employment opportunities are widely understood, and attract a diverse range of people with employers filling vacancies with quality skilled employees.
  3. Education – the food and fibre sector’s education system is fit-for-purpose and meets the needs of the sector.
  4. Employment – people thrive in food and fibre workplaces with excellent conditions.

A key opportunity is changing the perception of the food and fibre sector so that it seen as a highly valued career option offering a wide variety of career options and opportunities.  In most cases, parents and graduates are not aware of the range of career options and pathways that are available, including qualifications in design, languages, engineering, communications, technology, marketing, accounting, legal, management, production, cool storage and growing to name a few. 

All food and fibre sectors have existing programmes running to communicate these opportunities.  However, if we could link these programmes together, we would have a much more significant reach and impact.  This would include the programmes we are running in the horticulture sector.

Another opportunity is creating a workplace that not only attracts but retains skilled workers.  For the food and fibre sector, only 29% remain in the workforce after three years. 

Two immediate actions the horticulture sector can take are to explain the diversity and variety of careers we offer and then do our upmost to retain those skilled workers we recruit. 

The implementation plan linked to the Reform of Vocational Education (ROVE) has the potential to deliver much better outcomes for our sector and those who work in it.  But the key is for every employer to make the changes necessary to not only to attract, but also to retain, skilled staff.