Friday, December 1, 2023

Work plan goes back to school

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In June 2014 I popped up to Massey University for a good feed. And I got one.
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Massey, I must say, does put on a good spread. They even put on health food rubbish for all those finnicky new age eaters as well as the sausage rolls and other fatty, meaty treats for normal people like me.

Why am I recounting this now?

Well, it turns out that was the main event of the day.

It wasn’t supposed to be.

The stand-up feed was supposed to be a mix and mingle networking event where everybody enthusiastically geed everyone else up after what was supposed to be the main event.

All the great and the good were there for the launch of People Powered, the National Government’s strategy to take the primary sector into a prosperous future with a new, highly skilled workforce.

The aim was to double the value of exports by 2025.

But the main event subsequently proved to be a non-event.

I haven’t heard a squeak about the strategy since.

In fact, what with all the training establishment trouble and the failure of Lincoln University and AgResearch to get their much-touted education and research hub off the ground its not unfair to think we’ve gone backwards. 

And the new report backs that up. It says the number of people studying for agriculture and horticulture qualification dropped from 67,000 in 2013 to 45,000 in 2018. Wow.

But even 45,000 sounds a lot. However, we need to remember not all of them will be new, additional workers. Many will be people already in the sector who are studying while they work.

In case anyone has forgotten what we were told that day in 2014 I’ll recap the headline figures.

Over the decade, an we’re more than halfway through it now, we would need a net increase of 49,900 workers. 

And here’s the clincher, we would also need another 235,000 new workers trained just to replace those lost by natural attrition.

That’s 284,500 more workers.

And here that bit that’s next up the scale from the clincher, we would need 42,700 fewer workers without post-school qualifications but 92,600 more workers with qualifications.

So it’s not just a question of replacing those leaving and shoving a few more in for good measure.

It’s about replacing low skilled workers with highly skilled workers then adding a whole lot more clever clogs.

And we’re not talking here about people with skills to pilot a dog round the sheep or put cups on a cow but people with production, science, marketing, engineering, technical and management support skills.

It was estimated then only 39% of people in the primary sector actually worked on the land with 33% involved in processing activities and 29% in support services.

It was also estimated 44% of the workers had a formal post-school qualification but that would have to rise to 62% by 2025.

So, what’s happened to crack on with this?

Bugger all, as far as I can see.

As I said, all the great and good were present for this launch by then Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy. Beef + Lamb and DairyNZ were partners with the Primary Industries Ministry in a joint effort to make sure action was taken and progress made.

But there has been little if any action and no progress.

And there haven’t been any howls of protest. No squealing by farmers or processors or industry-good bodies.

Why not?

Who knows.

Farmers might say they’ve got other things on their minds now what will all the regulations and bureaucratic form filling to prove they’re adhering to them and being beset by everyone with an opinion and nothing better to do than voice it.


But hang on a minute, mate, doesn’t all this stuff just prove the need for the strategy and the urgent need for someone to get cracking and do something about it?

The need for greater compliance, the skills to cope with climate change, the need to make a profit while farming sustainably all demand more highly educated, aptly qualified people on and off the farms.

Farmers might well be overwhelmed, and they tell us they are, but that shouldn’t have stopped their industry-good bodies, who were supposed to be MPI’s partners, and the likes of Federated Farmers not to mention processing sector leaders, rural professionals and educators screaming blue murder.

The need to make sure the industry is fit for the fight with synthetic proteins for the hearts and minds of consumers should be another spur to getting this sorted.

Now the Labour Government is having a go. It has launched Food and Fibre Skills Action Plan 2019-2022.

The foreword in the first strategy was attributed to Guy.

“Our primary industries are a vital part of our economy and way of life and are responsible for over 70% of our product exports,” he said. 

The foreword, written by anonymous, in the new plan says “The food and fibre sectors are vital to NZ. They generate income, provide employment, support communities and form part of our national identity.”

The two then continue in much the same vein as each other.

I won’t go into detail of the new plan. You can read as much of it as you need elsewhere in Farmers Weekly.

Both forewords were probably written by a civil servant at MPI, maybe even the same civil servant.

At least the latest version has a time line in it with a promise it will be monitored and enforced.

Now its up to the politicians to kick the backside of the industry and civil service participants if deadlines are not met and up to the farmers and industry to jump up and down if the politicians and civil servants start dragging the chain.

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