NZ: Stepping towards a sustainable workforce

New Zealand’s dependency on productive, healthy primary industries – and perhaps more importantly, its people – has never been clearer. But ironically, the shortage of skilled workers in the primary sectors remains at an all-time high, writes Nadine at

As part of the 2022 Budget, the Government announced a further $230 million injection for the Apprenticeship Boost Programme and an extension of the program until the end of 2023. The funding will go towards training programs and supporting a further 24,000 apprenticeships.

While the apprenticeship boost is a starting point for alleviating skill shortages and labor pressures, it only goes so far in addressing what’s a pan-sector issue: the need for a sustainable labor pool and succession planning.

The latest Situation and Outlook for Primary Industries (SOPI) report forecast that horticulture export revenue will rise by nearly 5 percent to $6.9 billion for the year to 30 June 2022. This continued growth trajectory will not be achievable without substantial investment in the people.

Attracting New Zealanders into horticulture was always going to be a challenge.

The seasonal nature of the roles, the rural locations, the family and lifestyle commitments are just a handful of reasons New Zealanders are less likely to opt into horticulture than their backpacking or migrant counterparts.

The horticulture industry is not alone in this dilemma.

The challenge now is to work together and make a concerted effort to not only retain the 60,000-strong workforce but to grow it. The industry has shown a tremendous commitment to tackling this so far:

  • HortNZ developed and released the PickNZ job board in September 2021 to fulfill employers’ need to find seasonal workers. Since the job board went live, more than 33,000 roles have been advertised, from highly skilled positions to fruit picking vacancies.
  • The GoHort Career Progression Manager (CPM) network has proven itself as an effective vehicle for strengthening horticulture career pathways too. Long-term employment rates have improved, and the industry’s collaboration with polytechnics and universities across the regions has resulted in a steady uptake of horticulture training and courses. More than 5000 New Zealanders have been placed into training or employment as a result of the CPM network.
  • The Recognised Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme continues to hold a pivotal role in meeting seasonal employment demand, supporting not only the growth of New Zealand’s horticulture and wine industries but Pacific economies and permanent jobs held by New Zealanders. Industry’s relationship with the Pacific will continue to be key for future proofing the sector in the years to come.

On the technology front, growers are investing in systems and equipment to become more sustainable, efficient, and profitable. Automation will not only remove labor-intensive tasks but create a career path and skilled roles for those with technology and people management capabilities. Employers increasingly recognize the importance of a strong internal work culture too and the impact that has on attracting and retaining staff.

The apprenticeship boost is just a small step in what is an ongoing journey to secure the most valuable asset – the people.

The industry has the opportunity to shape a bright future for itself, but to do that, the industry must continue to work together, innovate, and find new ways of attracting and retaining future talent, so the industry can take advantage of fresh thinking and future opportunities. 

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