DairyNZ has put the dairy training initiative on hold until March as it reviews the three-week course and looks at ways it could be improved.
Federated Farmers assisted DairyNZ in getting GoDairy up and running while at the same time, launching its own scheme to get more New Zealanders onto farms.
He says those who had successfully gained employment were given starter packs from Federated Farmers and so far, 240 packs had been sent out.
Looking back, he thought the industry was going to be overwhelmed based on the information they were given at the time about the projected economic impact of covid-19 at the time.
The tourism and hospitality industries had been hit the worst by covid-19 because they were massive employers of migrants. Those migrants were the first to lose jobs and any New Zealanders who lost jobs were able to find jobs relatively easily.
“In rural areas, there’s still low unemployment, which is great for the New Zealand economy and New Zealand people, but it hasn’t helped farmers find people to work on their farms,” he said.
He says the geographical isolation of farming was a big factor in that.
“Where people have lost their jobs, they are not in the same areas where there are jobs available,” he said.
“It’s not like going onto Tinder and swiping and finding an instant match.”
He says this has been a long-standing challenge for the primary sector before covid-19 came along.
New Zealand was also experiencing a pink recession where a partner lost their job while the other person in the relationship remained employed. This meant it was unlikely someone would relocate to a rural area to work on a farm.
“You are not going to uproot your family and go and work on a farm if only half of the team has lost their job,” he said.
That person could be even more reluctant if they had children and had to relocate to a new school.
In the short-term, the biggest issue would be dealing with the migrants who have short-term visas that will be due to expire starting in January-February
The Government had already rolled over these visas, granting them six-month extensions in July-August.
“The market hasn’t changed from July-August and I’m hoping they can be rolled over again,” he said.
Lewis has also liaised with the contracting industry and shearers to help these groups work around expected worker shortages this season.
The overseas machinery drivers are expected to arrive in New Zealand and be ready to work in time for the maize and grain harvests in the first quarter of next year.
While busy, most contractors had been able to handle the workload over the past month during the silage making and crop planting season.
He says the recent spell of fine weather had also helped with this.
“A lot of the contractors I have talked to have said while they wanted the staff now, they are making sure they do not miss out coming into that season,” he said.
He says the federation had worked very closely alongside other sector groups as well as government departments to try and resolve the shortages.
The difficulties in training people for the primary sector underlined the structural issues the tertiary education sector faced in training up people for trade jobs.
“Nothing’s changed in 30 years and while we’re supportive of what Chris Hipkins is doing here around having a big restructure, it’s going to take two to three years to embed the new system,” he said.
Lewis says he wanted to work side-by-side with the Government to resolve these long-term employment issues that affected the primary sector.
“It’s not just an ag issue. It’s a whole New Zealand issue,” he said.