Education and agribusiness subjects will be offered in all New Zealand high schools by 2017
The Government has set a target of doubling New Zealand's primary sector exports by 2025 which, along with investment, innovation and market development, will require a skilled and relevant workforce.
People Powered, a 2014 report spearheaded by the Ministry for Primary Industries in partnership with DairyNZ and Beef + Lamb New Zealand, looks at the future workforce capability requirements of our primary industries, and at the skill sets needed to ensure that New Zealand realises its economic and environmental goals.
Underpinning the growth expectations is mounting demand for engineering, science and management professionals who can effect change across the production, processing, marketing and customer relationship spectrums. Specialists in food safety, biosecurity, environmental health and animal welfare will also be in demand.
The report takes as a starting premise that the workforce in the primary industries sector of the future may look very different to that of today. It estimates New Zealand will need about 50,000 more people in agribusiness jobs by 2025.
Highly skilled workers will be in demand -- particularly in fields of specialisation aligned with the value chain. Looking ahead to 2025, the report says that to elevate the effectiveness of the primary industries sector, all primary sector workers will be expected to have some form of post-school qualification. In 2012, it was estimated that just 44 pe rcent of primary sector workers had a qualification beyond the high school gate. It is expected that by 2025 this will need to increase to 62 per cent.
When putting the dairy industry under the spotlight, the report says that by 2025, an additional 25,700 trained workers will be required to replace the natural attrition of dairy workers within the industry. By 2025, the dairy industry is expected to need 8,300 more workers with qualifications.
National rural manager for real estate agency Bayleys, Simon Anderson, said the largest proportion increase in dairy industry employment numbers was expected in manufacturing -- with sales roles expected to be the fastest growing occupations. He said demand was also forecast for accredited rural professionals and providers to transfer new techniques and knowledge to farmers.
"In the arable (seeds and grains) sector, some of the main changes are continued strong growth in demand for seeds and specialist flour-based products, along with a growth in demand for new plant-based protein products as alternatives to animal proteins," Mr Anderson said.
"Improving the skill level of the arable industry workforce to meet potential demand is seen as critical with qualifications in the fields of engineering, management, and commerce seen as pivotal.
"Enthusing young people about a life on -- or involved with -- the land remains a big challenge. With New Zealand's economy so reliant on its primary industries, and with world food production needing to increase 60-110 per cent by 2050 just to keep pace with population, young people are being encouraged to seek out and consider rural-based training opportunities."
The Government's 2015 budget committed $86 million towards attracting students into tertiary courses in agriculture at university -- something hoped to safeguard the industry's future.
Mr Anderson said that during his regular tours around New Zealand's provincial centres, he often heard murmurings among the rural New Zealand communities that the farm cadet scheme of old should be resurrected in order to ensure a better-trained workforce.
"The Primary Industry Training Organisation (Primary ITO) which looks after New Zealand's primary industries' training outside of the university sector has come in for some farmer criticism about the standard of trainees coming out the other end of the system, which in turn has sparked talk of a need to return to a formalised farm cadet scheme," Mr Anderson said.
"The original farm cadet scheme was founded by Federated Farmers in 1974 with funding assistance from the then Ministry of Agriculture. It comprised a three-year course where cadets studied for trade certificates with approved farmers providing practical training on the farm.
Fostering the idea of a rural career path needs to start early, and St Paul's Collegiate School in Hamilton is trialing an agribusiness programme which aims to direct more students into tertiary rural education. Seven other schools have joined the project and will start offering tuition from next year -- with the new subject streams expected to be available to all secondary schools in New Zealand by 2017.
Federated Farmers' skills and training board spokesperson Rick Powdrell said in order to transcend the cliched idea that work within the primary sector is 'gumboots and black singlet' territory, both employers and potential employees should think of the primary industries or, agriculture, as both inside and outside of the farm gate.
"When people come into agriculture, it might not necessarily be working on farms. Like any large industry, there is a wide variety of skills required and opportunities present in the broader context of agriculture," Mr Powdrell said.
"Accountants, lawyers, traders, agronomists, environmental advisors and scientists are all needed in great abundance in the primary industries. We must continue to develop opportunities to show people -- particularly young people -- that there is an incredible diversity of work available on farms today.
"It is surprising to learn just how much technology is used on farms to make sure stock get the right nutrition and veterinary care at the right time, and the same can be said for crops. However it's a balancing act between technology and the gumboots and black singlet stuff."
"As advocates for upskilling in the primary sector, our challenge is to ensure that farms are striking that balance between the practical side and the other areas of farming that involves technological and scientific know-how."
Mr Powdrell said dispelling the perception that agriculture is less intellectually challenging than other career sectors will be the key to encouraging young people to consider the primary industries as a viable career option.
"We also have to debunk the perception that farming is poorly paid, with less than adequate working conditions. Farming is hard work -- with long hours at certain parts of the season. That's the nature of it, but that's no different from many other careers when you start out," he said.
"We don't make any excuses. We have to get it right, but farming has rapidly gone from an industry with few staff except for family and the odd casual worker, to a permanently staffed, professional industry."
"There are opportunities for quality people to move through levels of employment in the industry and, despite what some people might think, there are still excellent pathways to farm ownership -- especially in the dairy industry," Mr Powdrell said.
"Even if farm ownership is not your goal, with all the risk that it entails, an increasing number of multiple farm owners are looking for quality people to manage farms in a sole charge role.
"We need to be making it clear to people that those opportunities exist. Coupled with the obvious allure of rural living, I think if people are looking for a career and not just a job, farming is right up there competing with other professions."