Stepping towards a sustainable workforce

8 June 2022

New Zealand’s dependency on productive, healthy primary industries – and perhaps more importantly, its people – has never been clearer. But ironically, the shortage of skilled workers in our primary sectors remains at an all-time high.

As part of the 2022 Budget, the Government announced a further $230 million injection for the Apprenticeship Boost Programme and an extension of the programme until the end of 2023. The funding will go towards training programmes and supporting a further 24,000 apprenticeships.

While the apprenticeship boost is a starting point for alleviating skill shortages and labour pressures, it only goes so far in addressing what’s a pan-sector issue: the need for a sustainable labour pool and succession planning.

The latest Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries (SOPI) report forecast that horticulture export revenue will rise by nearly 5 percent to $6.9 billion for the year to 30 June 2022. This continued growth trajectory will not be achievable without substantial investment in our people.

Attracting New Zealanders into horticulture was always going to be a challenge.

The seasonal nature of the roles, the rural locations, the family and lifestyle commitments – these are just a handful of reasons New Zealanders are less likely to opt into horticulture than their backpacking or migrant counterparts.

Our industry is not alone in this dilemma.

The challenge now is to work together and make a concerted effort to not only retain our 60,000-strong workforce, but to grow it. Industry has shown a tremendous commitment in tackling this so far:

  • HortNZ developed and released the PickNZ job board in September 2021 to fulfil employers’ need to find seasonal workers. Since the job board went live, more than 33,000 roles have been advertised, from highly skilled positions to fruit picking vacancies.
  • The GoHort Career Progression Manager (CPM) network has proven itself as an effective vehicle for strengthening horticulture career pathways too. Long-term employment rates have improved and industry’s collaboration with polytechnics and universities across the regions has resulted in a steady uptake of horticulture training and courses. More than 5000 New Zealanders have been placed into training or employment as a result of the CPM network.
  • The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme continues to hold a pivotal role in meeting seasonal employment demand, supporting not only the growth of New Zealand’s horticulture and wine industries but Pacific economies and permanent jobs held by New Zealanders. Industry’s relationship with the Pacific will continue to be key for future proofing our sector in the years to come.

On the technology front, growers are investing in systems and equipment to become more sustainable, efficient and profitable. Automation will not only remove labour-intensive tasks but create a career path and skilled roles for those with technology and people management capabilities. Employers are increasingly recognising the importance of a strong internal work culture too and the impact that has on attracting and retaining staff.

The apprenticeship boost is just a small step in what is an ongoing journey to secure our most valuable asset – our people.

Industry has the opportunity to shape a bright future for itself, but to do that we must continue to work together, to innovate and find new ways of attracting and retaining future talent, so our industry can take advantage of fresh thinking and future opportunities.