Trainees drop out of class
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.