Sunday, March 3, 2024

Industry jobs still a hard sell

Neal Wallace
Reading Time: 3 minutes

The days of advertising job vacancies and then sifting through the applicants are gone for large rural employers like the Alliance Group.

Its manufacturing manager Willie Wiese,says employers have to start recruiting well before the season, using creative tactics and supporting their workers.

Alliance and Silver Fern Farms estimate they are each short about 500 workers this year. 

The whole industry estimates it is short about 2000.

Realising early last year staffing would be an issue, Alliance began early recruitment and training of staff, reviewed its recruitment methods and looked at issues facing workers.

Wiese says one issue identified is a lack of housing in rural towns.

Alliance has targeted potential workers from South Auckland and Wiese says while pastoral care and support is important for people relocating, the major challenge is housing.

Luring families from high population areas into jobs in the regions is more difficult than it sounds.

The loss of friends and family, adjusting to new communities and housing are all barriers which Wiese says needs Government support to make happen.

Alliance now runs all but two of its plants for 10-11 months of the year making jobs more permanent and desirable than seasonal positions.

“We pay a starting wage far in excess of the minimum wage and have a focus to ensure new starters get appropriately introduced to the industry, for example using buddy trainers.”

Marcus Beadell
Silver Fern Farms

A collective agreement with the NZ Meat Workers’ Union allows staff to move between plants according to need, which helps maintain production levels according to livestock supply.

This season Alliance brought 200 workers in to bolster its Lorneville workforce while another 90 were recruited from the Cook Islands, with many working at its Mataura plant.

Wiese says while this has helped, the worker shortage required a reconfiguration of plants to allow the daily management of further processing and cutting linked to worker availability.

Financial incentives are another tool.

The minimum starting wage has been increased to $24.50/hour, an education system has been introduced so staff can get national qualifications and staff who refer a new employee can earn $600 provided they stay for a minimum length of time.

Wiese accepts meat industry jobs are hard and repetitive and the requirements to constantly wear personal protective equipment and work in minus 25degC conditions are demanding.

Alliance has invested $60m in automation in the past two years to reduce the reliance on labour and is working with engineers to expand technology into areas such as the slaughter board.

Alliance Group manufacturing manager Willie Wiese says one issue identified as a barrier to recruitment is a lack of housing in rural towns.

Silver Fern Farms regional operations manager Marcus Beadell says attracting and retaining staff is a significant focus.

“We pay a starting wage far in excess of the minimum wage and have a focus to ensure new starters get appropriately introduced to the industry, for example using buddy trainers.”

SFF also provides staff wellness, job sharing opportunities, discounted insurance options and meat sales.

“If someone recruits one of their friends or family to join the team SFF pays them a $500 referral fee.”

Fonterra is also feeling the impact of a tight labour market across its retail, on farm support and processing businesses.

Fonterra’s director NZ manufacturing Alan Van Der Nagel says as a seasonal business it needs a pool of short term workers to cover peak milk periods, which are not attractive positions when there are plenty of job options.

While there have been some delays in filling positions, this has not impacted the co-operative’s ability to process milk.