Quality training to ensure a quality product is the cornerstone of the wool harvesting industry, says industry trainer Tom Wilson.

"The industry has got to have that quality and we [the trainers] are the guardians of that quality."

The New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association has been given $1.86 million from the Provincial Growth Fund to develop two New Zealand shearing training model programmes in Otago/Southland and Hawke's Bay over two years to address the shortage of workers in the industry.

Wilson, who is a co-director of Elite Wool Industry Training Ltd and regularly runs shearing and woolhandling courses, was consulted about the development of the training model.

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"These pilots give a real good start to get things moving and on track. However, running the pilots over a couple of regions is not going to solve the industry's staffing shortages, so we need national coverage to meet the needs long term," he said.

The industry has had training issues during the past five or six years with the demise of long-time wool industry training provider Tectra Ltd and, more recently, TeAko Wools, which was launched in 2016 and then wound up in 2018.

Wilson blamed the inability to deliver what the industry needed under the funding levels and requirements in place at the time.

This year's Covid-19 restrictions on movements from overseas, which prevent workers from filling vacancies during busy times, along with natural attrition, were contributing to staffing shortages.

"Covid-19 has shown how reliant the industry is on other countries to fill our gaps.

"There are lots of opportunities for young people in the industry and it is not everybody's cup of tea, as there is plenty of getting up at 5am and driving for miles to get to sheds, and the work is physically demanding, although they can make really good money.

"Shearers who has been properly trained can earn up to $80,000 annually within two years, if they are prepared to work hard and average 200 sheep a day, five days a week for 10 months a year.

"However, it takes about two years or more to get to that level of competency.

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"People straight out of school have to start at an entry level, maybe learning woolhandling, pressing and handpiece work, and it takes about a year to get up to speed."

Wilson ran an advanced three-day course for 22 people at the Paton family's woolshed, near Kyeburn, last week.

As part of every training course he brings in people to talk about nutrition and fitness, as well as financial awareness.

He also works with a police representative who talks about issues including drugs, violence and alcohol abuse.

"The industry is more like a family and we give as much support as we can.

"It is very rewarding and shearers and woolhandlers can make a decent living."

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