A major project aimed at guaranteeing a supply of New Zealand labour for orchard work has started with forecasts that close to 3000 extra workers will be needed in Hawke's Bay each year by 2020.
The project, calling on Hawke's Bay's unemployed to see seasonal work as a pathway to fulltime jobs, runs under the message "Harvest your future" and is being fronted by a group of eight young people who have turned casual work into blossoming fulltime careers in the apple industry.
The project comes amid a labour shortage at a time of a record apple crop, with forecasts New Zealand will need 20,000 seasonal and fulltime jobs annually by 2020.
According to Hastings-based Pipfruit New Zealand chief executive Alan Pollard, it will create over 450 fulltime jobs and 5000 extra seasonal jobs - more than half of them in Hawke's Bay.
Hawke's Bay Labour Governance Group chairman Gary Jones says a project is also under way to identify "exactly" how many jobs are needed, including where and when and what skills and qualifications people will need.
They hope the stories of those who have come off benefits and are now flourishing in the industry, including Te Aroha Toa Toa, now a quality controller with Bostock New Zealand.
"I'm absolutely enjoying myself, I'm loving being outside. I'm loving the fresh air," said Ms Toa Toa.
RJ Flowers horticultural cadet Lance Williams said working in the orchard has been life-changing.
"A year ago nothing was really going my way, but I backed myself and went for it," he said.
"I had dreams and aspirations of getting out there and doing something for myself, now I'm working fulltime and learning every day."
Ryan May says there were many branches to follow, from the first day.
"I started as a casual, now I'm looking after a team of 20 on the orchard. On my first day I learnt how to graft an apple tree and I've never stopped learning," said Mr May, who is now a senior leading hand with Turners and Growers.
Tennyson Kemp started stacking apple boxes, but is now a forklift driver for Mr Apple, and says: "If you show good work ethic, you can go far in this industry."
Mr Pollard said when people talk about their own life experience and how joining the apple industry has changed their lives, it speaks volumes.
"Provincial New Zealand is prospering," he said. "We are growing the regional economies and creating jobs but we are facing a labour challenge.
Mr Jones said everyone across the industry is pulling together with a real commitment to help get more New Zealanders into better paying, long-term work that goes beyond seasonal employment.
Go to www.picknz.co.nz or call 0800 picknz (0800 742 569) where Hawke's Bay's Labour Governance Group has a dedicated resource for registering job interest to connect with employers.