Trainees drop out of class

Matamata Chronicle - - Rural Delivery - By CEANA PRIEST

Poor stud­ies com­ple­tion rates for Kiwi agri­cul­tural stu­dents mean farm­ers could be forced to choose be­tween work­ers with ‘‘ques­tion­able his­to­ries’’ or in­ter­na­tional work­ers, in­dus­try ex­perts pre­dict.

Only 34 per cent of all stu­dents reg­is­tered with in­dus­try train­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion AgITO which cov­ers pas­ture, poul­try, pest man­age­ment and api­cul­ture sec­tors com­pleted their stud­ies last year.

Poor lit­er­acy lev­els and a high ‘‘churn’’ rate in the in­dus­try were partly to blame, said chief ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Bryant.

While he said the fig­ures were not ideal he con­sid­ered a 100 per cent pass rate was not achiev­able.

This year the train­ing or­gan­i­sa­tion, which re­ceived $18.6 mil­lion in govern­ment fund­ing last year with an­other $5.6m com­ing from in­dus­try, stu­dent fees and other sources, was on tar­get to achieve a 50 per cent com­ple­tion rate, he said. This could be bol­stered to 70 per cent.

‘‘Lit­er­acy has been a huge chal­lenge with 60 per cent [of stu­dents] be­low OECD lev­els. Worse than the national av­er­age. We are los­ing peo­ple be­cause they hit a wall [with lit­er­acy] and don’t com­plete their course.’’

Cour­ses are be­ing amended to in­clude lit­er­acy mod­ules, in­clud­ing more at-work as­sess­ments. Mr Bryant said the or­gan­i­sa­tion was ‘‘un­der the pump as a sec­tor’’ and its gov­ern­ing body, Ter­tiary Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mis­sion, had set a 45 per cent com­ple­tion rate this year.

‘‘We are on an up­ward spi­ral now for com­ple­tions. We are be­ing more chal­leng­ing to our stu­dents now, test­ing their com­mit­ment.’’

Waikato farm­ers had seen skilled worker short­ages each year, said Green­stone Re­cruit­ment di­rec­tor Gray­don Shar­ratt. Some farm­ers were choos­ing be­tween Kiwi work­ers with­out a solid work his­tory and well-per­form­ing in­ter­na­tional work­ers.

While hard­work­ing and skilled Kiwi work­ers are hired be­tween the peak em­ploy­ment pe­riod of Fe­bru­ary and April, a drift­ing pool of labour with­out a solid work his­tory or clean drug record be­comes avail­able.

‘‘They have got ex­pe­ri­ence but they chopped and changed through jobs,’’ Mr Shar­ratt said.

‘‘If a per­son has a his­tory of chang­ing jobs all the time that raises ques­tions in farm­ers’ minds whether that pat­tern is merely go­ing to be re­peated on their farm.

‘‘We wouldn’t even bother with over­seas work­ers if there were enough qual­ity work­ers here.’’

He sug­gested the low course pass rate was linked to work ethic.

‘‘As a gen­er­al­i­sa­tion I think there is not a drive to get AgITO cour­ses com­pleted. They are not seen as nec­es­sary.’’

Of­ten in­ter­na­tional work­ers study Level 4 or above cour­ses be­cause they are aware of the skill short­age in New Zealand, with some be­ing fast-tracked into man­age­ment roles.

DairyNZ de­vel­op­ment team leader Ge­off Tay­lor said skilled work­ers were ‘‘para­mount’’ to the in­dus­try, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the com­plex­i­ties in dairy farm­ing.

Knowl­edge of ef­flu­ent man­age­ment and green­house gases was more im­por­tant than 10 or 15 years ago and peo­ple needed to in­crease their skills to ‘‘flour­ish in the volatile environment’’ of dairy­ing, he said.

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