College targets smart skills for ag students

By Ben Chapman-Smith

St Paul's Collegiate students planting crops. Photo / Thinkstock
St Paul's Collegiate students planting crops. Photo / Thinkstock

A Waikato school is answering calls for more skilled young people in the rural sector by developing a state-of-the-art academy focused on agricultural science and business.

St Paul's Collegiate in Hamilton is creating a programme aimed at producing top-quality students geared up for a career in the agricultural industry.

It is consulting top leaders in the sector to develop a curriculum which best meets the industry's needs.

Headmaster Grant Lander said the days of leaving school with a basic qualification and taking over the family business were all but over.

"Employers associated with the rural sector are increasingly looking for tertiary qualified, multi-skilled applicants with science, technology and commerce capabilities."

While academies for sportspeople or musicians were common, those that focused on nurturing our next agricultural leaders were not, Lander said.

"We want to be a school that promotes and grows the talent, skills and abilities that enables our young people to be much more marketable for the large number of careers in agriculture business."

St Paul's plans to have its Centre for Excellence in Agricultural Science and Business up and running by the start of 2014, at a cost of about $1 million.

The curriculum will be made up of science, business and practical learning components, and regular trips to farms and organisations will be a key part of the process.

Those involved include Dairy NZ, Affco, AgResearch, Young Farmers Association and Livestock Improvement.

Local farmers and tertiary institutions are also part of the consultation.

Mark Paine, Dairy NZ's strategy and investment leader, said the initiative was welcome at a time when the dairy sector faced a major skills shortage.

"We're looking at quite a loss of capability over the next decade because we have had a huge gap of 25 years where we haven't been renewing the numbers in that area," he said.

With 11,000 businesses and 35,000 people working in the dairy sector, it was essential that skilled young people were coming through, he said.

The industry would need 1000 new graduates a year for the on-farm side and 100-150 a year to meet demand for jobs in rural banking, farm management and agri-tech.

Jacqueline Rowarth, professor in agribusiness at Waikato University, said farms were multimillion-dollar businesses but not enough people were being recruited to make the most of New Zealand's potential.

St Paul's is seeking funds to build the centre and to buy a bus for students to visit partner organisations and farms.

- NZ Herald

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