July 27, 2020


Scepticism over New Zealand's plan to get unemployed residents to join agriculture sector


New Zealand's Ministry for Primary Industries has recently launched a $4.5 million recruitment campaign to fill a 10,000-job gap across agricultural and primary sectors left by the country's prolonged border shutdown due the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor, New Zealand will seek to "redeploy recently unemployed Kiwis" to vital food and fibre sector jobs, which account for one in every seven jobs. The industry is considered an important part of New Zealand's economic recovery.

However, Richard Rowley, an innovation adviser at Tech Futures Lab in Auckland, is sceptical that many people outside the agriculture sector may be able to learn new skills.

Rowley, who has advised Air NZ, Beca, ANZ, BDO and Waste Management, suggested the slow start to fill 1,000 dairy farm jobs, and the fact that employers in several sectors are struggling to fill vacancies, "isn't because everybody's happy to be on welfare."

Rather, it comes down to how people are defined by their roles, and for some, the "leap of faith" is just too great, explained Rowley. He said when it comes to shifting career, self-esteem and confidence play a huge part. "As a result, most people will see only obstacles, including age, experience and physical ability."

Sirma Karapeeva, chief executive of the Meat Industry Association, said while the sector supports the initiative to attract more people into the industry – particularly on the back of ongoing labour shortages for meat processors and exporters – there is still a need to extend the time that skilled migrant workers can remain in the country.

"Skilled migrant workers are important to maintaining certainty of production and employing more New Zealanders."

She said the stronger focus on hiring domestically will not replace the need to bring in specialist skills, including Muslim Halal processing personnel.

Rowley said there will also be many people out there who believed that they had found their career for life and now have just had the rug pulled out from under them.


"Can a flight attendant in their 40s picture him or herself in a muddy paddock at five o'clock in the morning, in the rain?"

Rowley also said that expectation is both unrealistic and unfair, particularly when "you consider that government's emphasis is now on outdoor, hard labour type jobs in conservation and agriculture."

- NZ Herald