Gisborne nursery growing talent
Twenty years ago, Roberta Moore started work at Riversun as a casual line worker and today she is the high-profile Gisborne nursery's operations manager.
Madi Ellingham joined the staff just over a year ago as a nursery worker . . . now she is a facilities manager in Riversun's Potted Plant Operation.
“We have always endeavoured to give staff with the right attitude and abilities the opportunity to grow within our company,” says chief executive Leo Kelso.
While developing pathways for staff is an ongoing process, Kelso says recognising talent and offering training is already key to developing a stable workforce.
After years of always searching for the “perfect” new employee -- that is, someone already trained and experienced in the nursery/horticultural world – the company has in recent years adopted a simpler (and far more successful) approach, he says.
“Basically, it goes like this: if you have great people skills and a healthy dose of common sense, are a good thinker, are not afraid of hard work, are adaptable and flexible, and have a hunger for learning, we can teach you to do pretty much any job at Riversun.”
That works well for the core of around 70 permanent staff, but with numbers swelling to 200 permanent, casuals and contractors in the peak season, Riversun still has seasonal challenges to face.
Those are somewhat softened by the fact that Riversun's production season runs counter-seasonal to other employers, meaning labour is more readily available during its peak.
“But we are still faced with the same challenges around labour shortages, capability and training, future workforce development and seasonal recruitment,” says Kelso.
“For example, not too long ago we were looking for a microbiologist and a tractor driver, and while we received applications from around the world for the microbiologist role, there were fewer than a handful for the tractor driver job.”
That's a great illustration of how Rawinia Parata's work with the Tipu seasonal employment project can help, he says.
“In local horticulture we are all experiencing the same issues but no one has the individual resources to be able to address them.
“We see Rawinia’s role as a resource to pull together the data and information needed to formulate a big picture that will help identify local opportunities to develop a skilled and sustainable workforce.”
And Leo Kelso believes everybody has a role to play.
“For a long term solution the outputs of this project need to be a combination of getting unemployed people into jobs and working with local schools and tertiary providers to promote the opportunities a career in horticulture can offer,” he says.
“That can be from field operations, production, management, sales, and marketing, right through to senior executive roles . . . the options really are endless.”
NEW PLANTINGS DRIVE DEMAND FOR LABOUR
In the case of fruit-growing, an additional 500 hectares of new plantings in the Tairawhiti Region is expected to generate an additional annual labour requirement of 250 full-time equivalents in orchard and related processing, with a flow-on employment impact in associated servicing industries of 1,000 people. The annual sector production growth rate of 10% over the last five years is expected to accelerate to a significantly higher level over the next five years.
In terms of fruit and vegetable processing, while significant overall workforce growth is not anticipated for the future, noticeable growth is anticipated for different permanent and seasonal labour categories within the workforce - for example technical/skilled staff including quality assurance, engineering, skilled machinery operators; truck drivers and forklift drivers.