‘Blokes and gumboots’ dairy myths dispelled
Women made their voices heard at a recent dairy conference. Jo McKenzie-McLean reports.
The dairy industry is not just about ‘‘blokes and gumboots’’ and women are making their voices heard.
About 300 people attended the Dairy Women’s Network conference in Queenstown on Thursday and Friday.
Keynote speaker, Associate Minister for Primary Industries, Louise Upston, opened the conference and told the crowd the dairy industry focussed too much on men, and she was trying to break up myths the primary industry was about ‘‘blokes and gumboots’’.
‘‘It sure as hell isn’t. It isn’t now, and it definitely won’t be in the next 10 or 20 years.’’
Perceptions had to be challenged in order to attract more people and meet the Government’s target of 50,000 more employees to primary industries by 2025, and upskilling 43,000.
‘‘We have got a growing industry and we want it to grow significantly. It is about demonstrating how fantastic the women are in the dairy industry so that we attract even more.
‘‘I know the challenge we have ahead of us...We have to demonstrate with the work we do each and every day and how we respond to the challenges thrown at us - and it is a great industry...It is about attracting the best of the best in already what is an amazing industry and a significant contributor to the economy.’’
She was concerned at the shortage of people entering the industry without higher level qualifications.
‘‘We do have to do things significantly differently. One of the things I am doing across the three portfolios is to say what are the successful pathways?
‘‘We have far too many that are training in primary industries at levels 1-3 but are not progressing. They are either not going into employment, they are definitely not going onto higher levels of study, so something is not working there. In terms of the ones getting qualifications at level 7, which we need more of, what was it that con- nected them?’’
Her commitment was to find pathways for young New Zealanders - not migrants, she said in response to a question about how changing immigration laws would impact on employers, as well as the ability to meet the Government target.
‘‘It is a balancing act and I make no bones about the fact my commitment is to grow our own. When we have thousands of young New Zealanders who are not in employment educational training, we have a responsibility to put them on a pathway. We absolutely have to do it.
‘‘There will be a point in time when we have to put more effort into growing our own. We are a long way off that yet so yes, there has been some changes at the margins made in immigration, and we have to invest more, which is what we are doing, to grow our own.
‘‘At the end of the day those young people, in my role in corrections, if we don’t get them into training or education if we don’t get them into jobs we will pay for them for a very, very long time. It is not just an economic cost, as it is a social cost. It is a social cost in our families and our communities. I accept that is going to create challenges. It is tough but we do have to do some rebalancing.’’
Dairy Industry Group national chairman and Federated Farmers immigration and employment spokesman Andrew Hoggard said farmers were hugely concerned about the changing immigration laws.
‘‘It’s the main thing I am getting phone calls and emails about at the moment.’’
Last year, Immigration New Zealand made a change ‘‘at the 11th hour’’ to the immediate skills shortages list which took of assistant herd and herd manager positions.
‘‘It meant you had to go through a labour market test if you wanted to employ a migrant. They did make the test simpler but it reduced the work visa for those positions from two to three years down to one year. A lot have been absolutely frustrated by it. They have to do these labour market tests every single year.’’
An impending change was a three-year cap on migrants, he said.
‘‘If you have someone coming from overseas working on the farm, at the end of three years this person has to leave and is not allowed back in New Zealand for another year.
‘‘If you are in a region that has very few suitable people wanting employment, or people wanting employment but are not suitable, the farmers are faced with having to replace them with another migrant and teach them the whole farm operation again.’’
Nationally, about 15 to 20 per cent of employees on dairy farms were migrants - higher in regions like Southland, Otago and MidCanterbury, he said.
‘‘They are pretty important. It creates challenges for everyone.’’
MP Louise Upston speaking at the Dairy Women’s Network conference in Queenstown.