According to Alan Clarke of Clarke Shearing there is a crisis looming in the shearing industry and that opinion is backed by other local contractors including Mavis and Aria Mullins of Mullins Shearing.

A shortage of experienced shearers and wool-handlers is starting to bite and Alan puts it down to three trends.

Increasingly, young shearers are being lured overseas by big money, able to earn twice as much in Australia and three times the amount in the UK, according to long-time operator in the industry, Mavis Mullins.

The final of the Senior Wool Handling shows lots of skill and energy as competitors demonstrate their expertise.
The final of the Senior Wool Handling shows lots of skill and energy as competitors demonstrate their expertise.

It is not just money but the attraction of different countries and cultures, the chance to follow summer all year round and just the sheer excitement of having an OE and being well paid for it.


A second trend is the decline in young people wanting to take shearing and wool-handling on as a career despite the attraction of the OE. Aria Mullins says Health and Safety regulations mean kids cannot go into the shed when in use and so children are not exposed to the atmosphere and excitement.

Alan says the seasonal demand for shearers locally makes it less attractive for those considering shearing. His business is down to 12 staff at present compared with 30-40 in the summer.

Mavis says not enough is being done to make shearing as a career "cool and enjoyable for the millennials who have lots of options". She said she is excited by the good young entrants at recent Golden Shears events but the industry must make career pathways more clear. All say schools have a major role to play, Alan quoting Napier Boys which has currently some students in training at Tautane Station.

The third trend is the decline in training organisations. In the halcyon days of shearing Tectra (partly funded by a wool levy) provided excellent courses but since it folded a number of private organisations have tried to fill the vacuum and failed.

Alan says the decision of the NZ Shearing Contractors Association to raise the pay rate from $1-50/sheep to $2 will definitely help keep some shearers at home. He knows farmers are not pleased with this 40 per cent increase given the return on wool but hopes the high meat prices partly compensate. Aria says she is excited for her loyal and hardworking shearers to have a higher living allowance.

But it is not just about money. Those interviewed believe the shearers, contractors and farmers must get together to secure the future of the industry.

There may be some help on the horizon. Mavis says Federated Farmers is working with the Primary ITO to investigate options for training. Alan is looking out of the district and even overseas to find staff. Aria says Mullins Shearing prefers to train their own shearers controlling both skills and work culture. She says attitude is everything.

"If you have the right attitude leave the rest to us," she said.