New role aims to stretch seasons all year round
When Rawinia Parata says she has “field work” to do, she really means it.
In the early days in her role as Tairawhiti Horticulture co-ordinator – exploring the seasonal work scene in the greater Gisborne area – she planned to get her boots dirty by spending a week on the job.
“Growing up I spent a bit of time in the shearing sheds but never in horticulture,” says the Ruatoria-bred co-ordinator. “So I want to get into the field for a week or so to get a proper understanding of the people I am working for.”
Those “people” are the thousands of seasonal workers who, until now, have been employed on an often piecemeal basis in an industry with little coordination.
In the immediate future, it will be her job to take both a “micro” and a “macro” look at everything from labour requirements and production cycles to details from the Ministry of Social Development about the unemployment rate, training options, skill levels, and people's level of workreadiness.
Then later in her two-year tenure she will actively promote the horticulture, viticulture, cropping and nursery industries as part of a drive to ensure local workers are available and skill-ready to get into full-time, year-round employment.
The creation of the role had its foundations in a meeting held in October last year when economic hub Activate Tairawhiti joined horticulture producers and government agency representatives to talk about what labour issues would be faced in the future. The result was the granting of government funding of $1.8 million to build on skills and capability of Tairawhiti’s regional labour force, including $150,000 allocated to pay for the two-year co-ordinator role, which is governed by the Tairawhiti Labour Force Group. “This is a vital regional economy for horticulture,” Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman said when the funding was announced in March.
“We want to see more New Zealanders, particularly young New Zealanders, in the Tairawhiti region given the opportunity to explore long and rewarding careers in horticulture.”
While Parata's role is a new one, the need for it has been long-signalled.
In an October 2016 Labour Market report prepared for economic development hub Activate Tairawhiti, analyst Sean Bevin says that horticulture in Gisborne is set to grow, with spin-off demands on the labour force.
In the case of fruit growing, for example, an additional 500 hectares of new plantings over the coming years “is expected to generate an additional annual labour requirement of 250 full-time equivalents in orchard and related processing, with a flowon employment impact in associated servicing industries of 1000 people”.
What's more, Bevin says annual sector
production growth of 10 percent over the last five years is expected to accelerate over the next five years. And while significant growth is not expected in the arena of fruit and vegetable processing, there is expected to be demand for technical and skilled staff.
At the time the report was prepared – in October, 2016 – there were over 1800 people in Gisborne receiving a Job Seekers benefit, but Bevin says relying on them to fill vacancies is not a simple as it might look.
For one thing, though the population in the Gisborne region is expected to grow to over 50,000 (an increase of nearly 10 percent) in the next 15 years, the population is ageing.
For another, there is already a significant shortage of skilled labour, which is having an impact on business performance.
However, Bevin believes there is potential capacity within the existing regional labour force to fulfil at least some of the future needs via, for example, the upskilling of existing employees; increased use of parttime and seasonal workers; and getting unengaged young people into work.
He says that in the longer term employers could provide real incentives for staff such as training and increased earnings, and