A training programme to help the kiwifruit industry provide employment opportunities for New Zealanders is receiving funding from the Government.

Up to $200,000 is being invested to help people into work and meet urgent seasonal demand in the sector, Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor said.

The initiative's being led by New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers (NZKGI), in partnership with with MPI, to deliver the programme that will allow 165 people to attend a range of introductory and intensive courses.

The programme will target people who may be interested in a career in the kiwifruit industry.

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"We know that people have lost their jobs because of Covid-19, and we know there is significant and urgent demand for trained workers in the horticulture sector" O'Connor said.

The kiwifruit sector is an important part of the New Zealand primary industries, representing over $5.5b in annual revenue and 23,000 jobs.

During lockdown the kiwifruit industry provided a lifeline for a number of displaced workers from sectors such as tourism, forestry and hospitality, O'Connor said.

"We want to continue to connect people with jobs in horticulture, and more broadly in the primary industries because we know these sectors will be key to our economic recovery".

"That's why, in the Budget, we invested $19.3 million over four years to fund initiatives to help recently unemployed New Zealanders access training and work opportunities in the primary sector. This is the first project to be funded as part of this initiative".

In the immediate term, the aim was to place at least 10,000 New Zealanders in primary sector jobs by rapidly retraining and absorbing workers displaced from other sectors, O'Connor said.

Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor. Photo / Supplied
Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor. Photo / Supplied

Due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, the sector had a potential shortfall in overseas workers.

Already, indicative figures showed that, kiwifruit businesses had employed around 70 per cent New Zealanders, with some businesses employing up to 90 per cent, compared to around 50 per cent last season.

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"So we know the interest is there, we want to build on that and, in the longer term, retain workers to meet current and future needs" O'Connor said.

"Right now the focus for kiwifruit growers is to complete pruning over winter. This is critical for next year's production. So we're not wasting any time, these courses will start this month".

The training programme offered a one day "taster" and basic skills course for people who could then decide whether it was a suitable career option.

For those who wanted to progress in the industry, a two week training course is then offered. Both courses give NZQA accreditations.