Pipeline pumping new blood into kiwifruit
Quietly ticking over in the Bay of Plenty for the last few years, Pipeline is about getting and preselecting potential workers from Work and Income offices, talking to them about the possibilities and opportunities in the kiwifruit industry, then trying t
Pipeline grew from New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated, who have run a compliance strategy with labour inspectorate for quite some time in kiwifruit, and also an employment industry partnership with the Ministry for Social Development, trying to get Kiwis into the kiwifruit industry. Now it’s a force in its own right.
The Orchardist caught up with the project lead, Ian Fryer, to discuss the programme’s success. “Workers will start in picking and packing, then move on to winter pruning when the harvest season is over. Kiwifruit is a summer industry, really, but there’s work all year round. It’s 46-48 weeks of work a year; once you factor in holidays, that’s basically a full time job.”
The Pipeline programme gives candidates a chance to see the industry as a career option, instead of just a stopgap measure between ‘real’ jobs. By all accounts the programme is going well.
“Mostly it’s successful.We’ve been running two years now, and we’ve managed to get about 250 people into work. It’s sort of a drip-feed, since we don’t do teams of people, we focus on individuals. We tried doing some initiatives with seven or eight people going in to do some training and then on to employment, but a lot of employers can’t handle that many new employees at once. Bringing in one or two people at a time is much more manageable.
“There are 10 or 12 employers who’ll take one or two people every now and then; some of the bigger employers have 30 or so people through Pipeline, some small ones just have one or
two, it just depends on how easily you can assimilate the workers and how much room you’ve got.”
Pipeline also aims to make the recruitment process as painless as possible for both candidate and employer.
“Some of what we do is try to filter out people with other issues, like drug addiction, which would prevent them from working. This means that when employers meet candidates for interview, they’re only meeting with genuine people who want to work.
“We’ll take on anyone really; ex-cons, long-term unemployed, former addicts, as long as they genuinely want to work we’ll work around their other obligations like parole or rehab. We disclose everything to the contractors doing the hiring, and as long as they’re willing to take them we trust their judgement. We don’t give up on them [the workers] unless they give up on themselves. “When I first started doing this, maybe 70% of the people I spoke to were on drugs; it was crazy. You don’t realise until you’re in that zone just how bad the problem is, and outsiders just don’t want to believe it; you’re blinkered by upbringing or circumstance, and never see how bad it is.”
“It’s as big as it needs to be, really. As far as we’re concerned, the quieter we are the better, because it means unemployment in the region is down. Unemployment is at a pretty low level in our area at the moment, so we reckon we’ve helped a bit with that.
Trying to duplicate Pipeline’s success in other parts of the country, like Northland, is also on the cards.
“We’d love to get the programme up and running in other places. It’s easy to keep doing what you’re doing, but if you can keep moving and expanding then we can help a lot of people find work, and help a lot of employers find good people.We’ve been talking to various groups about getting something up and running in Northland, so it’s exciting to think about all the good that could do in the region.
“It also ties in with RSE as well, since to be an RSE employer you need to be employing New Zealanders as well. It’s a winwin.”
Vetting isn’t just for the candidates though, as potential employers are also scrutinised to ensure they’re compliant where it counts.
“Obviously the contractors are vetted by MSD as well. The last thing we or MSD want is for one of their clients to get stuck with someone who’ll rip them off, or only pay them cash, so we’ve got to vet them first to make sure they’re fully compliant.”
“We want to do the best for these people and the region, so why would we do anything less?”
“We disclose everything to the contractors doing the hiring, and as long as they’re willing to take them we trust their judgement. We don’t give up on them [the workers] unless they give up on themselves.”