Monday, April 22, 2024

New workforce drive needs refocus

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The food and fibre sector needs to change the way it is trying to attract young people to jobs within it, a new report says.
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Madison Pannett says the food and fibre sector needs to reframe its story to better align with the values of Generation Z if it wants to attract more young people to careers in the sector.

The food and fibre sector needs to change the way it is trying to attract young people to jobs within it, a new report says.

Madison Pannett was a member of the 2021 Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme course and submitted the “Generation Z and the environment: How can we use their passion to attract them into food and fibre sector careers?” research report she wrote as part of that, to Parliament’s Primary Production Select Committee’s current inquiry into primary industries’ future workforce needs.

In her report, Pannett says the sector has long struggled with attracting and retaining talent, with one of the barriers the perception around what a career in it could look like.

She says Gen Z, who are loosely defined as those born between 1995 and 2010, are quickly entering the workforce and are quite different to the generations before them.

Not only are they the first truly digital generation, having been exposed to the internet and social media throughout their lives, they are driven by truth, social and environmental goals.

Pannett says it is important that the food and fibre sector does not ignore those traits.

“They are more likely than other generations to join with others, (who) have differing opinions to them, for a common good. The search for truth is the foundation of a large proportion of Gen Z characteristics,” Pannett said.

She says the majority of people in that generation do not have strongly negative views of the sector, in general recognising its impact on the environment but, for the most part, understanding that it is looking to make change.

However, she says messaging around change already happening and anticipated future change needs to be authentic for it to have any impact.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to appealing to Gen Z, but a large part of this generation is ready to take on exciting opportunities that will align with their values and benefit wider society,” she said.

Pannett recommends focusing on three key areas to help young people from that generation.

Firstly, there needs to be a strengthened pan-sector approach, supported by the Government, to enticing Gen Z people to careers in the sector.

“Attracting Gen Z into the food and fibre sector as a whole will allow this generation to see the wide variety of careers available,” she said.

She says in general members of this generation will stay in jobs for less time than previous generations, so it’s to the wider sector’s advantage to make sure those young people are aware of the full range of opportunities in it, increasing the possibilities of them changing jobs but still staying in the sector.

Secondly, she recommends reframing the sector’s story to appeal to Gen Z values, as at the moment those values do not align with its public perception.

“The narrative around the sector is often anchored in its economic performance globally and contribution to the New Zealand economy. Gen Z does not place as much value on this concept,” she said.

She says the sector has good stories to tell about its environmental performance, which need to be capitalised on.

“Going forward, the sector has an opportunity to strengthen this narrative by being open, transparent and authentic around the changes in environmental practice,” she said.

“The sector can use this idea as a powerful narrative to attract Gen Z.”

Thirdly, Pannett says there needs to be Gen Z-focused communication strategies, with the narrative presented in a way that appeals to people of that generation.

She says the sector already has a lot of useful resources that should be adapted to focus on attracting Gen Z as a first step.

“This could be taken further in terms of incorporating an influencer model. For example, supporting those with careers in the sector to advocate and explain careers in the sector on social media platforms,” she said.

She says that will require reconsidering current platforms and resources aimed at attracting new people and the sector will need to adapt as platforms such as TikTok and Instagram develop and replace others.

Pannett, who now works for MPI, comes from a farming background but never thought the primary sector was an option for her.

“I grew up on a farm but I never considered a career in agriculture to be my thing.

However, after graduating from Otago University with a degree in history, French and politics, she found herself in a temp job with a sheep and beef genetics company,” she said.

“I found it really rewarding working there and discovered that I could work for rural communities without having to actually always be on-farm.

“I saw there was lots of cool stuff I could do, so I just followed that path.”

Although her own journey into the agriculture sector happened almost by accident, Pannent wants to ensure that does not have to be the case for others.

“I’m really passionate about working to bring people into the primary sector because I’ve found it so personally rewarding,” she said.

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