Bay News Editor and reporter for NZME.

Kiwifruit sector sparks jobs boom in Bay

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OPTIMISTIC: Kiwifruit Growers acting chief executive Kate Longman says the sector is poised to create thousands of new jobs that will pump millions into the Bay economy. Photo/Andrew Warner
OPTIMISTIC: Kiwifruit Growers acting chief executive Kate Longman says the sector is poised to create thousands of new jobs that will pump millions into the Bay economy. Photo/Andrew Warner

The booming kiwifruit industry is predicted to pump thousands of new jobs and millions of dollars into the Bay over the next four years as crop volumes increase.

Confidence in the city has also soared, business leaders say.

The latest figures from Trade Me showed job listings jumped 11.6 per cent in Tauranga in the December 2015 quarter compared with the same period in 2014, and recruitment agencies have reported strong activity on all fronts.

Data from the Ministry of Social Development also showed the number of job seekers registered in Tauranga for its December 2015 quarter dropped to 3916 from 4346 over the corresponding timeframe.

New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers predicted the industry would need 4740 seasonal and 420 full-time staff by 2019 - there were already 9800 permanent employees in the industry.

In the 2014/15 season it had 8600 seasonal employees, which included 1500 who worked under the recognised seasonal employer scheme.

Acting chief executive Kate Longman said there would be more job opportunities available in the kiwifruit industry this year because of increasing SunGold kiwifruit volumes.

Generally employers struggled to get New Zealanders to do night shifts and more demanding tasks in the high season, she said.

But the industry had partnered with Ministry of Social Development and the Master Contractors Association to provide workers with longer-term more stable employment.

"A pilot of the kiwifruit employment programme that ran last year had a 70 per cent success rate and put almost 100 people into full-time employment. The programme aims to double that figure this year. People are fundamental to the horticulture industry's success."

The success of the kiwifruit industry converted to prosperity in the regions, she said.

Zespri aimed to reach $2 billion in export earnings by 2020 and reached sales revenues of $1.57 billion in 2014/15 - the marketing giant employed 350 people and sold to 56 countries.

Tauranga Chamber of Commerce CEO Stan Gregec. Photo/John Borren
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce CEO Stan Gregec. Photo/John Borren

Priority One strategic projects manager Greg Simmonds said the kiwifruit industry was a good example of a sector that proactively implemented strategies to ensure there was a sustainable labour force.

"Training, attracting and retaining the right skills is increasingly a major challenge for business. We have a regional education and training plan to support better alignment between education and jobs; numerous initiatives are under way to assist people to get the skills that employers require.

"The development of a university in Tauranga will further support skill retention and attraction to the region.

"Where skills are not available locally, we work with employers and the Government to attract skills from offshore, in order that business growth isn't constrained."

Chamber of Commerce chief executive Stan Gregec said it was great to see a buoyant job market.

"It confirms what we already know, which is that things are still running hot here in the Bay and employers are looking at growth."

Staff Room director Jill Cachemaille said it was "definitely busy" and most of the roles it was recruiting for were due to growth, with a spike in shipping positions.

It currently had two shipping positions advertised that were documentation export-orientated, and one had attracted more than 170 applicants, she said.

"Business confidence is really good and my clients are feeling really positive. They are still cautious and not being silly but keen to keep the wheel going."

Meanwhile, administration jobs were still attracting 130-plus applications, she said, but overall the marketplace was a "mixed bag".

Aucklanders were still a presence alongside an increased interest from people from Wellington.

The Right Staff owner Claudia Nelson said its clients were active and the company specialised in skilled and management roles with a salary bracket from $60,000 to $150,000.

There was a positive sentiment in the market for employers to potentially create new roles while people also sought a change of job, she said.

Business confidence is really good and my clients are feeling really positive. They are still cautious and not being silly but keen to keep the wheel going.

Bay of Plenty Regional Commissioner for Social Development Mike Bryant said for the year ending December 2015, 10,967 working-age clients in the Bay of Plenty cancelled their benefit because they had returned to work.

"The current growth spurt experienced in the Western Bay of Plenty is seeing vacancies relating to the building, construction and roading.

"Caregiving is also providing job opportunities. The great weather also contributes to tourism and hospitality opportunities. This is further boosted by cruise ships visiting Tauranga."

He also acknowledged the importance of the kiwifruit industry.

"The kiwifruit industry provides significant employment opportunities for our clients in a variety of packhouse and orchard work roles.

"Packhouse roles range from pickers, graders, forklift operators to bin dump drivers and administrators.

"Orchard work includes pickers, summer and winter pruners, tractor drivers and fruit and bud thinners."

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