Thursday, December 7, 2023

Contractors need staff pronto

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Without skilled operators rural contractors risk having millions of dollars of essential agricultural machinery sitting idle this spring. 
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After an urgent meeting with Primary Industries Minister Damien O’Connor, Rural Contractors is surveying members amid rising concern over the pending labour shortage.

Results so far reveal up to 1000 skilled machinery operators will be needed for the spring and summer.     

Many will need to be brought into NZ, Rural Contractors president David Kean said.

“There is mounting concern among contractors that without skilled operators much of their machinery will sit idle, causing havoc for farmers and contractors alike.”

Kean fronted a stormy, packed meeting of contractors in Gore on Friday June 26 after his meeting with O’Connor the day before.

“We had 60 people, contractors and their wives and partners. 

“They’re stressed because they’ve financed millions of dollars of machinery and these are in the yard ready to go but in many cases there are not enough Kiwis with the skills to drive them,’’ Kean said.

The deputation to the meeting with Government officials included former president and Canterbury contractor Steve Murray, chief executive Roger Parton, Invercargill contractor Daryl Thompson and Otorohanga contractor Julie Clark. 

Kean said while contractors support the Government’s wish to train New Zealanders there will not be enough. 

“We’ve worked with the Southern Institute of Technology to do initial expos and now we’ve got 40 people going through the first of six courses at the SIT Telford campus.” 

Contractors also working on North Island courses.

While such six-week courses might provide people with enough skills to drive a tractor safely, a big piece of equipment such as a combine harvester or silage machine needs much more in the way of training and skills development.

Kean said rural contractors are suffering from the same impacts as many other businesses hit by covid-19.

“We are in the same boat. It’s not anybody’s fault but it’s not a one-minute fix.

“That said, if we can’t get some of these workers in from overseas there will be major impacts for farming output as well as for contractors.”

Parton said contractors have been taking on New Zealanders displaced from other work but some say if their former jobs open again in tourism or aviation they will go back to those roles.

“Also, like farming, we’ve got vacancies to fill but even if people have the skills or capacity to acquire them, many people don’t want to move from Remuera to Rangitkei or even commute 100km from Queenstown to Mossburn.”

Parton is surveying members to determine the exact number of skilled machinery operators required for the looming season.

“The replies to the survey are roaring in and I’d estimate there may be need for up to 1000 skilled machinery operators. 

“We’ve got 337 identified in the approval in principle process that RCNZ brings together for members but that’s only a part of the picture,” Parton said.

Some contractors bring in skilled operators themselves and others depend on people with agricultural contracting skills who come to NZ on the working holiday visa scheme.

But the holiday scheme cannot operate without open borders and contractors understand they need to work with the Government to fill all the gaps they can before bringing in people as essential workers.

“We know our timing isn’t great with the fresh concerns about covid-19 from those still coming in. 

“That said, our way out of this economic crisis is through our primary industries and we are key players in that. 

“We’ve said to the minister we will do all we can to employ Kiwis and we accept anyone coming in to meet the shortfall will be in quarantine for two weeks at our expense.  

“The critical thing now is getting numbers confirmed and arrangements under way in time to meet the farming community’s requirements once spring arrives,” Kean said.

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