Thursday, December 7, 2023

Fuelling career development on and off farm helps retain staff

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Giving team members the opportunity to gain an on-the-job qualification means farmers can retain both staff and their skills longer, says Hauraki District dairy farmer Ilona Pohlmann.
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Ilona and partner Mike Green operate a dairy unit at Paeroa, where farm assistant Jasmine Tauri is completing the New Zealand Apprenticeship in Agriculture Level 3 and 4.

Ilona says she offers staff training so that they can understand their job better and thrive in their roles. “We invest in people who might have little knowledge to start with but who are motivated to learn.”

Ilona speaks from experience, having started work on a New Zealand dairy farm with no previous knowledge of farming. From Poland and a career in logistics, Ilona was on a working holiday in Aotearoa when she met Mike, and later moved to the farm.

“I started working on the farm, but I found it difficult because I did not understand what I was doing.” Mike had previously completed a Level 4 qualification with Primary ITO | Te Pūkenga and suggested Ilona sign up to entry level programmes.

Ilona began by learning animal husbandry and pasture management. “It completely changed my perspective. I started to understand what I was doing and why I was doing it.”

Five years later, Ilona is completing the NZ Diploma in Primary Industry Business Management Level 5.

Jasmine is progressing through Level 3, has been involved in the Z Dairy Industry Awards Trainee category and is applying her new knowledge on farm.

Ilona says a key part of Jasmine’s success is the support she receives from Primary ITO Training Adviser Kirstin Anderson, a former contract milker who is completing the final paper of the NZ Diploma in Primary Industry Business Management.

“I love helping farmers to develop their teams and achieve their goals and helping learners to further their career. I support both the employer and the learner through the journey,” says Kirstin.

Primary ITO training advisers are in regular contact with learners to support their progress and meet with employers and learners at least four times a year to set a training plan.

Learners attend classes once every month to six weeks and attend study days and nights. A learning support team and mentors are available to learners who require additional support.

Through Kirstin, Ilona says she learnt how to support Jasmine in her learning without compromising what needed to be done on farm. “Jasmine gets hands-on experience with her schoolwork and we get jobs done on the farm at the same time.”

Ilona says the opportunity to learn alongside others at a similar stage is positive for young trainees. “They learn about other people’s situations, talk about their stresses, make contacts and learn from each other.”

Primary ITO’s online Mahi Tahi learning App means learners can complete work from their phones in the field, including uploading photos as evidence of their work, and employers can verify the work online. Ilona says the App is engaging and motivating for learners and connects the farm tasks with e-learning.

Ilona says she recommends other dairy farmers offer training to attract good staff. The programme is accessible and achievable for learners and is designed around the farming calendar with modules specifically timed before calving and mating on those topics, she says.

This article first appeared on Primary

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