Wednesday, February 21, 2024

A new generation forged in adversity

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The graduates hitting the job market now have picked up valuable skills, says Cheyenne Wilson.
Cheyenne Wilson says her graduation was a celebration for her whānau, who have been a part of her journey and supported her.
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The 2023 Lincoln University graduation took place in May at the Christchurch Town Hall and the first class of what have been dubbed online degrees were awarded. What does this mean for the future of the food and fibre sector workforce? 

I was one of the students at the ceremony, graduating with a Bachelor of Environment and Society. A celebration for my whānau, community, those who have been a part of my journey and everyone who has supported me. Ngā mihi koutou. Being a mature student at university and struggling with the adjustment from full-time employment to student life was my own unique experience.

Covid-19 lockdowns introduced many new experiences for New Zealanders, and for university students one of these came in the form of emergency remote learning. We saw a shift from the traditional in-person teaching in the iconic brick and mortar buildings on the Lincoln University campus to at-home, online study. During the 2020 lockdowns we saw students return home to the farm and juggle work duties with study. Many studies found there was a negative impact on student’s mental health and inequities were exacerbated, as found by a study undertaken by Akuhata-Huntington in 2020. As one of the Māori tauira to struggle through these inequities, I hope that the identified issues will be rectified. I have seen staff working hard on this at the expense of their own mental health and wellbeing and hope the system will recognise this mahi and the changes that are required. 

But can positives be taken from the experiences that the future workforce has endured and continues to? Absolutely. Not only are teaching methods adjusting to fit an ever-changing world, but we have a generation that is entering the workforce with tools that were not available previously. There is a generation of graduates and students who have adapted to online learning and the utilisation of AI tools at a pace that rules and guidelines cannot keep up with – and they have hit the workforce. These students built resilience and an additional layer of self-drive through adversity to thrive in the workforce. Covid-19 highlighted the need for essential services and the importance of having impact in the world. 

The changes to some courses could be interpreted as being much more closely aligned to real-life situations in the field where information is often readily available. The change from end-of-semester exams to internal assignments replicates the reports many of our rural professionals are expected to present to clients. The lecturers who adjusted quickly and well to emergency remote learning removed some of the barriers to success for students. Some pushed the boundaries and didn’t see the rules, regulations or policies as a barrier but as an opportunity for growth and change.

Will this flexibility better serve the industry? Will we learn more from this generation?

I would like to think so. The industry needs to lean in to the diversity of thought that early-career professionals offer. When the people of this generation are managers, employers and business owners, they will remember the adversities that they faced. They will have empathy, understanding and respect. Let’s learn from them now, let’s listen to their perspectives and hear them.

So, what shifts will we see in the sector? We already know that youth in the sector are taking the initiative to help their more experienced counterparts understand some technologies. They teach short cuts and understanding of new marketing tools, applications and much more. This is reciprocated. It is encouraging to see many of the graduate programmes begin again, and new initiatives such as the Grassroots Graduate Programme being launched. This is an initiative aimed at accelerating the progression of early career dairy farmers by challenging the status quo. These young people have experienced student life in a different way to past generations and will offer the industry a vibrant, diverse thought process that is grounded. 

I believe young people follow values and principles that they are not willing to jeopardise. I support this and follow these myself. I won’t jeopardise who I am for a job, a role, or anyone else. My whānau know who I am, I want them to be proud of who I am, I want my tūpuna to be proud of who I am. 

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