Shearing stalwart Jock Martin is the driving force behind online training platform, Tahi Ngātahi, which is revolutionising the way the wool harvesting industry trains its workforce.

Martin has been part of Otago and Southland's wool harvesting scene for over 30 years and is a second generation shearer.

Passionate about improving skills and safety, he believed new e-learning platform Tahi Ngātahi was the 'game-changer' the industry has been waiting for.

Keeping workers injury-free in a physically demanding occupation is a big issue for the wool harvesting industry.

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According to ACC data, in 2017 there were 755 work-related injuries in wool harvesting, resulting in 9,300 working days lost. The wool producing sector currently has an ACC work account of over $25 million in new claims liability.

"Behind these stats are people," said Martin.

"If someone gets sidelined by injury in the shed that has a huge impact on their family. Many of the injuries that are happening are preventable, but farmers, contractors and crews need to work together for things to change. It's about making wellbeing and safety just another part of running a good, profitable business and shifting away from that old compliance mindset."

Jock Martin. Photo / Supplied
Jock Martin. Photo / Supplied

Martin said Tahi Ngātahi was aiming to reduce preventable injuries by 30 per cent over time.

He was particularly impressed with the website's use of video to teach practical skills.

"The footage from the sheds feels so real and hands-on. The whole thing just seems so practical. This generation has been using YouTube for years to learn guitar, cook, and fix their computers. It's about time we caught up," he said.

The immediate priority was to extend the reach of these videos to woolsheds everywhere.

"Our workforce is spread across both islands and often working in remote locations. Crews can work on up to 100 farms in a season across multiple sites. The training has to come to them. Not vice versa."

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A looming labour shortage is another big issue.

Sheep numbers have fallen from 70 million in 1982 to 28 million and last year NZSCA president Mark Barrowcliffe estimated that shearer numbers had halved as a result.

Martin sees Tahi Ngātahi as essential for the industry's survival.

"We know we've got to attract more young people into the industry. Providing them with quality training has to be part of the mix. The clips also feature some of the absolute legends of our industry so they provide role models for new entrants. This is about future proofing the industry."

To date, nearly 650 trainees and 50 shearing contractors have signed up for Tahi Ngātahi, which still left many more to recruit Martin admitted.

With that in mind, Martin is hitting the road meeting farmers and organisations such as Beef + Lamb NZ and the Rural Women's Network to spread the word.

"My focus is getting contractors to sign up crews and getting as many of NZ's 10,000 sheep farmers on board so Tahi Ngātahi fulfils its potential. It's in everyone's interests to have a safe wool harvest done to the highest standards possible."

An image from the Tahi Ngātahi website shows what's on offer. Photo / Supplied
An image from the Tahi Ngātahi website shows what's on offer. Photo / Supplied

"For farmers it's about taking ownership of our industry. If we don't have a skilled workforce that feels valued, it will become harder and harder for them to get their work done when they need it done."

"We've never had safety and wellbeing training before that encompasses everyone involved in wool harvesting. It's always just been little snippets here and there as part of a one-off shearing or wool handling course. That no 8 wire 'she'll be right mate attitude' has been the biggest barrier to raising our game."

"Tahi Ngātahi shows how important things like body conditioning, warm-ups and managing stress play in running a successful harvest. This is the stuff our top performers are already doing."

"Our message is that there's never been a better time for employers, shearers and wool handlers to be involved in training. This is a cutting edge training system tailor-made for the smart-phone generation. People can log-in and learn whenever they like, wherever they are. How cool is that?"

The Tahi Ngātahi videos are short and to the point. Users can learn in a few minutes how to catch and drag a sheep correctly to avoid back strain, the basics of preparing sheep for a shear, or how to safely operate potentially dangerous equipment like wool presses.

Tahi Ngātahi had videos for farmers demonstrating how to bring to equipment and facilities up to spec to make sure their shed earns a 'warrant of fitness' as a work environment.

There are also clips for employers about Person Conducting a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) responsibilities under the health and safety legislation.

Tahi Ngātahi is a joint initiative between the NZ Shearing Contractors' Association (NZSCA), Federated Farmers, Worksafe NZ and ACC.

NZSCA is responsible for shearing 70 per cent of the nation's flock, performing 40 million shears every year.

They work on over 8,000 sheep farms every year and employ around 3,200 workers.

The initiative's Tahi Ngātahi means 'together one' and reflects the fact that 80 per cent of the workforce are Māori.

Find out more about Tahi Ngātahi here.