As the wool industry works to rebuild demand and value for New Zealand’s strong wool, it also needs to develop and retain skilled workers.
Muka Tangata, the Workforce Development Council (WDC) for the food and fibre sector, is working with industry to develop four micro-credentials to recognise the skills of shearers and wool handlers.
Micro-credentials allow students to collect a recognised award for each segment of learning without necessarily having to complete the full qualification, providing flexibility and transferability of learning.
The micro-credentials are the first step in establishing a sustainable and enduring formal learning pathway for the wool handling industry since the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE) commenced in June 2021.
Muka Tangata chief executive Jeremy Baker said extensive engagement with people from across the sector has been undertaken to understand the needs of trainees and trainers.
“This process has confirmed that there is a lack of formal pathways into the industry. We’re now working closely with the industry to find a sustainable solution.
“Our approach is to build up from some key building blocks, which are encapsulated in micro-credentials, that can help provide pathways and improve retention of those who have entered the industry.”
Industry representatives attended a recent one-day wānanga as part of the first phase of developing the four micro-credentials.
Ross McIsaac, sector executive at Wool Impact, an entity established in 2022 to increase demand and value for NZ strong wool, said the discussion acknowledged the opportunity and also the challenge to deliver a fit-for-purpose solution.
“New Zealand wool is recognised for its high quality, and good shearing and wool handling is needed to maximise that quality and value. There is a need to increase the availability and accessibility of wool harvesting training to grow our workforce and improve capability.
“A major barrier to this is the cost of training and a lack of formal qualifications that align with the practical training currently being delivered. Formalisation of qualifications is key to enabling access to enduring funding.
“Muka Tangata has undertaken a lot of engagement with people from across the sector to understand their needs. The announcement to develop micro-credentials is great news for the wool harvesting industry and the New Zealand wool sector more broadly.
“Ongoing collaboration and input are going to be key to ensuring that we get the micro-credentials that are needed to support the sector.”
Marg Forde, registrar of the NZ Wool Classers Association, who attended the wānanga, said she’s hopeful that the process will address the wool harvesting industry’s unique training requirements.
“We have a unique industry, and our people have unique skills. As such training needs to be skills based and to support the seasonal nature of the industry. Hopefully, micro-credentials will deliver on that.
“The future of our industry depends on having a skilled workforce to meet the needs of new and developing markets and innovative uses of wool. It’s critical that our industry has the capability to deliver high-quality product to meet buyers’ needs.”
Next steps in the process include creating the project steering, working and feedback groups, reflecting on the information gathered in the wānanga, and subsequently returning to industry with draft micro-credentials and standards for feedback.