Feed­ing a fu­ture in veg­etable pro­duc­tion

Two new ap­pren­tices are play­ing their part in fill­ing a skills short­age and show­ing the earn­ing and learn­ing po­ten­tial of a hor­ti­cul­ture ca­reer.

NZ Grower - - Future Focus - Kate Long­man, Pri­mary ITO Na­tional Group Man­ager Hor­ti­cul­ture & Viti­cul­ture

Lu­cas Rossi came to New Zealand from Ar­gentina four years ago seek­ing a change – and he got one.

The agron­o­mist is now un­der­tak­ing the New Zealand Ap­pren­tice­ship in Hor­ti­cul­ture Pro­duc­tion (NZAHP) through Pri­mary ITO work­ing with a range of veg­etable crops as pro­duc­tion man­ager at Oak­ley’s Pre­mium Fresh Veg­eta­bles in Can­ter­bury.

Lu­cas said he loves grow­ing crops – any crops – and the job at Oak­ley’s was a chance to get in­volved with an­other in­dus­try (he was work­ing in the dairy in­dus­try) and pro­duce food. Amongst the crops he is work­ing with are po­ta­toes, beet­root, broc­coli, and pump­kins.

Al­ways keen to learn and de­velop new skills, Lu­cas says the NZAHP was a chance to learn ev­ery as­pect of crop pro­duc­tion, from the prac­ti­cal side of grow­ing and har­vest­ing veg­etable crops to op­er­at­ing the busi­ness.

While all quite new to Lu­cas, who has only been with the com­pany since July, he is en­joy­ing learn­ing while he is work­ing man­ag­ing crops for the busi­ness. Lu­cas plans on stay­ing in NZ for the long-term as he builds his ca­reer in hor­ti­cul­ture.

When Lu­cas’s co-worker Lach­lan Bense­mann started work­ing for owner Robin Oak­ley two years ago, the young school leaver had never even driven a trac­tor. Lach­lan learnt fast. He joked that he was thrown in the deep end as he ar­rived just as plant­ing sea­son was get­ting un­der­way and had to learn how to op­er­ate a trac­tor very quickly – but it is the me­chan­i­cal side of the busi­ness that cap­tured his at­ten­tion.

Now Lach­lan is more than happy to spend most of his day driv­ing ma­chin­ery, pre­par­ing ground for crops or har­vest­ing.

“You are never too old to be play­ing with trac­tors and dirt.”

Such is his en­joy­ment of the job that his ini­tial plans of at­tend­ing uni­ver­sity have been de­railed and in­stead he is learn­ing on the job by join­ing the NZAHP pro­gramme.

Although not from a farm, Lach­lan has al­ways had an affin­ity with the pri­mary sec­tor, and his ini­tial thoughts were to

do a Di­ploma in Farm Man­age­ment fol­lowed by an Agri­cul­tural Com­merce De­gree af­ter leav­ing school. But this would mean five years of study – not easy for some­one who is more prac­ti­cally in­clined – and a stu­dent loan.

Lach­lan said the ap­pren­tice­ship al­lows him to earn as he learns and he takes his learn­ing se­ri­ously – see­ing the value in the the­ory be­hind the prac­tice.

A di­ary he has had to keep as a record of man­age­ment tasks is al­ready many pages long and he ap­pre­ci­ates the im­por­tance of record keep­ing in ev­ery as­pect of the busi­ness.

He said he has pride in grow­ing and har­vest­ing high-qual­ity crops and has no prob­lem do­ing long hours on the trac­tor pre­par­ing ground for spring­sown crops.

“I en­joy long days on the job. I like do­ing it – in fact I’m pretty pas­sion­ate about it.”

Once he has com­pleted his ap­pren­tice­ship he would, one day, like to do a de­gree in hor­ti­cul­ture and a de­gree in agronomy, but that is some way down the track.

He said he en­joys work­ing with Lu­cas and is learn­ing a lot from him about crop agronomy – hence the de­sire to for­malise his learn­ing of agronomy.

For Lach­lan, the job is a per­fect fit and he is at a loss as to why more young peo­ple aren’t en­ter­ing the sec­tor, but he is en­joy­ing get­ting to op­er­ate some so­phis­ti­cated ma­chin­ery and learn­ing about the busi­ness of grow­ing food.

Robin Oak­ley said the ap­pren­tice­ship pro­gramme, which was launched in July, could not come soon enough. Em­ploy­ing 30 peo­ple full-time, he re­lies on hol­i­day and Recog­nised Sea­sonal Em­ployer (RSE) work­ers for his busi­ness to func­tion. Where he sees the void ap­pear­ing is in se­nior man­age­ment roles, as there are sim­ply not the skilled peo­ple com­ing through to re­place those near­ing re­tire­ment.

“The ap­pren­tice­ship sig­nals to fu­ture tal­ent that em­ploy­ers are will­ing to in­vest in their de­vel­op­ment.”

While he ap­pre­ci­ated the work done by the RSE work­ers, who are only in the coun­try for a short time, he wanted to see New Zealan­ders on a path­way to learn about the in­dus­try both on and off-farm and de­vel­op­ing their skills.

He said school leavers tak­ing the op­por­tu­nity to en­ter the ap­pren­tice­ship will, by the time they are 21, have the knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence to hold well-paid po­si­tions within the in­dus­try.

“We have the po­si­tions that we need to fill now.”

Robin said the ap­pren­tice­ship pro­gramme will give peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to learn about ev­ery as­pect of the in­dus­try and gave them time to de­cide where their strengths and in­ter­ests lie; whether it be in tech­nol­ogy, hands-on grow­ing and crop man­age­ment, or in the me­chan­i­cal side of the busi­ness.

Of­fi­cially launched at the 2018 Hor­ti­cul­ture Con­fer­ence in Christchurch by the Min­is­ter of Agri­cul­ture, the Hon Damien O’Con­nor, the Ap­pren­tice­ship in Hor­ti­cul­ture Pro­duc­tion was de­vel­oped by Pri­mary ITO in part­ner­ship with the hor­ti­cul­ture in­dus­try.

Speak­ing at the launch, Ju­lian Raine, the pres­i­dent of Hor­ti­cul­ture New Zealand, said the sec­tor will re­quire an ex­tra 25,000 peo­ple within the next 10 years to meet its ca­pa­bil­ity re­quire­ments and these peo­ple will need to be smart and tech-savvy.

Pri­mary ITO chief ex­ec­u­tive Dr Linda Sis­sons said the three-year ap­pren­tice­ship pro­gramme, which will em­ploy 100 peo­ple a year, is a first step to­ward cre­at­ing a pre­mium path­way for aspir­ing lead­ers in the hor­ti­cul­ture sec­tor.

The ap­pren­tices will be sup­ported in their pro­fes­sional de­vel­op­ment by their em­ployer, Pri­mary ITO and off­site train­ing providers.

“The ap­pren­tice­ship sig­nals to fu­ture tal­ent that em­ploy­ers are will­ing to in­vest in their de­vel­op­ment.”

It also shifts the con­ver­sa­tion from sea­sonal labour to a long-term ca­reer op­tion in what is a buoy­ant sec­tor of the econ­omy.

The pro­gramme, which al­lows ap­pren­tices to earn as they learn, takes the dif­fer­ent needs of the dif­fer­ent in­dus­tries within the sec­tor into ac­count. Ap­pren­tices will work through a typ­i­cal sea­son of which­ever in­dus­try the ap­pren­tice chooses and this en­sures they start at the right time for both em­ployer and em­ployee.

To reg­is­ter in­ter­est for the NZ Ap­pren­tice­ship in Hor­ti­cul­ture Pro­duc­tion, visit www.lets­grow.co.nz

◀ Lach­lan Bense­mann and Lu­cas Rossi

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