By: Simon Edwards

Federated Farmers operated an apprenticeship scheme, called the Farm Cadet, in 1970s until the early 1990s.

The ambitious goal is to cater for 500 trainees, with an initial focus on Northland, Waikato, Taranaki, Bay of Plenty, Canterbury, Otago and Southland.

Federated Farmers operated an apprenticeship scheme, called the Farm Cadet, in 1970s until the early 1990s.

Feds Dairy Group chairman Chris Lewis says the proposed new model is an enhanced and modernised programme that takes into account new practices and future needs.

“We have to be proactive in this space,” Chris told national conference delegates in June.

“The best staff going forward will involve employing New Zealanders; getting them up to speed to be farm assistants, then managers, on through the sharemilking system and then to buying our farms.

“All of us as employers have dropped the ball a bit; we haven’t got that wave of herd managers coming through the system. We need to front foot it, and attract our best and brightest into dairy farming.”

As Chris and former Meat & Fibre sector chairman Rick Powdrell worked with the Primary ITO putting together details of the new scheme, “a consistent message from government agencies was that we cannot forever rely on hiring employees from overseas”, Chris says.

“Our economy could slow down a lot and more New Zealanders might need work, or there could be a change of government. NZ First wants to cut net immigration by 50,000 to around 10,000 per year.”

GM policy Gavin Forrest says Federated Farmers would continue to advocate for workable immigration policies targeted at skills shortages based on regional needs until there are suitable New Zealanders ready to fill vacancies. “This Dairy Apprentice Scheme aims to reduce the need to source employees from offshore.”

As this edition of NFR went to print, confirmation of funding applications was awaited.
But Primary ITO chief executive Dr Linda Sissons was confident of success, telling the June conference the proposed programme is aligned to funding streams that already exist.

The scheme would dovetail with initiatives such as schools-based Trades Academies and Gateway programmes, as well as funding available from the Ministry of Social Development for helping New Zealand’s 70,000+ NEET youths (not in employment, education or training).

  • Linda said there were three streams of potential candidates:
    The ones who are going to be highly capable, potential future leaders; the “cream of the crop” who would come to farms with the right attitude, the right basic skills and understanding;
  • People who are practical, with demonstrated willingness to work and be trained. Could include career changers. They’re going to need quite a bit of training but they have a can-do attitude.
  • Those not currently in employment, and who perhaps “had a bad run in the education system”. They’re going to require a lot of investment and wrap-around care as they get themselves ready for the farm gate.

New entrants would start with a 16-week course. The first four weeks would get them up to speed on basic work ethics and habits, Health and Safety, etc. This would be followed by 12 weeks on-farm, upskilling on handling stock, basic pasture management, motorcycle/quad use and safety, etc. Trainees would earn level 1 and 2 credits on the NZQA framework.

Primary ITO general manager customer services Alister Shennan says the next stage, apprenticeships, would take two to three years to complete “depending on the learner”.

They’ll come out with a level 3/4 Certificate in Dairy, “and there’s a pathway beyond that” towards herd and farm management.

The ambition is to make completion of a Federated Farmers apprenticeship “a badge of honour”, Alister says.

“We want young people who have shown an interest in dairy farming to know they’re going to be with a great farmer – someone who is going to invest time and effort to help them succeed, not just treat them as a labour unit.

“And there will be a whole bunch of supporting programmes and training available to the farmers as well. We’re taking quite an holistic approach.”

Employers will be required to be Federated Farmers members, to use Federation employment agreements and compliant payroll software.

Not every person will get through the apprentice screening process, “and not every farmer is going to be able to employ one”, Chris says.

He says when he was on the old farm cadet scheme, selection processes and standards were such that by the end of it, graduates could pretty much pick their bosses. “You came out the end as employee of choice as herd manager.”

With the proposed new apprenticeships, “We’ll also have some drafting gates for employers. They’ll have to show that they’re up for it; that they’ll give days off for training, they’ll do on-farms tasks with their staff, have a great roster, meet in the staffroom and go through their homework, and so on.

“It’s not going to be for everyone.”

Asked about the cost of an apprentice to the farmer, Alister Shennan says “in dollars, not much at all”. The ITO covered training delivery and most pastoral care costs.

“The important aspect is the time you put in getting alongside the apprentice,” he says.

The ITO is already putting the call out for suitable apprentice candidates and, pending funding approval, registrations from interested dairy farms will open soon. The scheme would launch by the end of this year.

Source: The Country


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