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.

The Orchardist - - Careers -

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.

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