New role aims to stretch sea­sons all year round

When Raw­inia Parata says she has “field work” to do, she re­ally means it.

The Orchardist - - Careers - By Kris­tine Walsh

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

Raw­inia Parata

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