Ahikiwi orchard manager Louise Peters (left), Karsha Koro and Ngāti Hine Seeka cadet Ocean Koro at the launch of the training programme. Photo / Supplied
Iwi and industry are working together in Northland to boost the workforce in the horticulture industry.
Ngāti Hine Forestry Trust chief executive Huhana Lyndon said pastoral care was an important part of their work and their experience in training forestry workers was being adapted to horticulture.
A shared industry training programme has been launched in partnership with the Seeka packhouse in Kerikeri and the Ministry of Social Development.
"We have launched the programme with the first 30 trainees attending an induction course at Waipapa.
"Successful trainees will have the opportunity to take up work with Seeka for the next season,'' Lyndon said.
Lyndon said Ngāti Hine's strong community relationships meant pastoral support was more readily received.
"We are always mindful of the challenges in people's lives that may have been preventing them from working. We try to help remove those barriers to the workforce,'' she said.
Barriers might start with family support issues or having transport available.
"We'll ring around everyone every night to have a debrief and make sure they can get to the site, and we're providing lunchboxes and a drink bottle. Sometimes it's as simple as making sure they have lunch, drink bottle, and decent shoes and sun cream to be able to get through a full day.''
Individual learning plans are set up for each trainee.
"The induction is about giving them a taste of all the aspects of working in the horticulture industry. Once they have been through that successfully, we can then work out the area they would prefer to work in and they can then move into the fulltime workforce.''
Lyndon said there was a lot of fun and banter among the trainees.
"We have a young Covid refugee who has moved back to Northland after losing his job as a storeman in Auckland and one of his jobs is to pick up a group of older men. He says it's like picking up all the uncles and they are absolutely hilarious.
"One young woman turned up with glamorous nails and eyelashes but got stuck in and said she may not have liked all the parts of the induction course but she was prepared to give everything a go.''
Lyndon said the horticulture industry offered good career pathways and there were many different job possibilities.
While some inductees might find a career in horticulture is not for them, early indications are that most people have come back for more.
"Out of the first 30, only two didn't come back and when we followed up it was just that the timing wasn't right. We'll work with them to find what they are keen on, even if it's not in horticulture.''
Up to 80 trainees will be supported through the induction course this year.
The trust has appointed Kelly Komene, who has come through the trust's Ngā Māhuri o Ngāti Hine forestry training programme, as a liaison with the trainees.
Seeka's Kerikeri regional manager, Kevin Gordon, said he was impressed by the quality of people coming out of the process already.
The packhouse processes 2 million trays of kiwifruit, which is 43 per cent of Northland's kiwifruit crop, and between 250,000 and 300,000 trays of avocados during the season.
Seeka employs about 125 people at the height of the season.
"With backpackers staying in the south since Covid, we have all local people, so this training programme is great for the industry,'' he said.
Gordon said that, over the next three to five years, Northland's harvest is projected to grow substantially as new orchards come on stream.
"We're planning to add a nightshift which will take our workforce to 200. It's really exciting for Northland,'' he said.
Packing techniques for both crops were similar.
"We teach our workers to treat all of the fruit like eggs as part of the training programme. Even if you only damage one fruit in every 100, that's 1 per cent less returns for the growers, so our workers understand that.''
Board chairman Pita Tipene said the new programme enhanced the trust's kaupapa or principle of showing their people that everyone had a higher calling.
"If people understand they are part of a team that's a lot more motivating to go to work. The land is part of their inheritance and a legacy from the ancestors,'' he said.
Ngāti Hine Forestry Trust is a member of the Hort NZ Training Governance Group and the Tai Tokerau Maori Horticulture Collective.
The trust recently celebrated the purchase of its sixth Zespri Gold kiwifruit orchard in Waipapa.
Bought in November last year, the existing orchard, called Ahikiwi, is on 4.19ha of land and has 3.97ha canopy of new conversion Zespri Gold kiwifruit.
"It's a full Zespri Gold orchard, converted two years ago from green, and we are looking forward to a projected harvest of 13,000 trays per hectare this year,'' Lyndon said.
The six orchards take the production forecast to about 430,000 trays annually by 2026.