NZ schools ignoring agriculture - industry leaders

By Ben Chapman-Smith

Agriculture is being largely overlooked by New Zealand schools and young people are failing to hear about the wide range of careers available in the sector, say industry leaders.

KPMG's Agribusiness Agenda found one of the biggest issues facing businesses in the agricultural sector was a serious lack of talented people coming through.

Industry leaders were concerned agribusinesses were failing to secure an appropriate share of the talented people this country produces, said Ian Proudfoot, KPMG's global head of agribusiness.

"There is still a strong perception that primary sector careers are viewed by many as second-class opportunities - not for our best and brightest people," Proudfoot said.

One of the root causes of this problem was a lack of recognition of agriculture within our school curriculums given its importance to the economy, he said.

"The view was expressed that there is a disconnect between the economic contribution that the primary sector makes to the country and its position in the school curriculum.

"Many young people complete their education with little or no exposure to the scope of our primary sector, the role it plays in the economy, or the career opportunities it provides," Proudfoot said.

Teachers and careers advisers needed to learn more about the types of technical, global careers the primary sector could provide.

"The leaders we spoke to recognise that this is an industry issue and needs collaboration between organisations to address the issue," Proudfoot said.

"Initiatives are needed throughout our schooling system, at university level, in the workplace and the boardroom to ensure the best talent is attracted into the sector and then developed and retained."

One school stepping up to tackle the issue is St Paul's Collegiate in Hamilton, which is developing a state-of-the-art academy focused on agricultural science and 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.

Agribusiness leaders said another 'people issue' facing the sector was that it was becoming harder for young people to actually enter the industry.

The increasing scale and cost of farming businesses was a barrier to young people, at the same time as many older farmers were trying to get out of the game and sell their business.

Another problem was that those in the industry tended to place a low priority on people management and development, and needed to start seeing a career in agriculture as a professional career.

Other issues were the fast-approaching wave in retirement in our national science community, and the lack of diversity in the sector.

"The challenge to the industry is to take the steps now that will grow its prosperity and maintain its people-powered performance into the future," Proudfoot said.

The KPMG report released yesterday - titled 'Maintaining our People-Powered Performance' - was the second volume of its 2013 Agribusiness Agenda.

Details of its first volume, which came out in June, can be read here.

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