Attracting people to join the red meat sector is a challenge, but one that industries throughout the primary sector face too, according to Primary ITO’s national group manager Andrea Leslie.
Leslie heard about the issue repeatedly at the Primary Industries Summit in Wellington in early July.
“It’s a problem for the whole sector,” she says. “We’ve all got to do a lot of work on attraction.”
There are lots of different groups doing work on it, but a joined-up approach, with a unified message about the wide variety of interesting careers there are in the sector, is the only way to approach the problem and to stay relevant for job-seekers in the noisy world of tomorrow, thinks Leslie: “Otherwise we will be facing a lack-of-people crisis in the not-too-distant future.
“We’re really working hard on it.”
Primary ITO now has a fresh mandate
With a fresh mandate from the Minister of Education, Primary ITO is working on making sure its industry training continues to be relevant for the red meat sector.
Just before the Government’s August announcement reforming vocational education at polytechs and ITOs last week, the Minister of Education Chris Hipkins gave ‘recognition’ for Primary ITO to continue its work, a five-yearly legal necessity but one which Leslie says is very exciting.
“It’s all down to some of the considerable work that we’re doing with industry, some of the services we’ve been developing and the relationships we’ve been building, particularly over the past couple of years,” she says.
Primary ITO is particularly grateful for the strong support for the approval, which came from the meat company employers it works with and also the Meat Industry Association (MIA) and Beef and Lamb NZ Ltd for the different red meat sector programmes in which the ITO is involved.
“It shows that we’re still relevant and meeting needs of industries,” says Leslie.
It’s also an important step forward for the sector with the Government’s final decisions on the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE). This will see the ITOs that deliver workplace training and apprenticeships transitioning into Workforce Development Councils and the current 16 regional polytechnics amalgamated into one body, with the working title of New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology.
“The change has put a bit of uncertainty around things. But, regardless of what shape or form that takes, we are still fully committed to working with industry and supporting training,” Leslie says.
Meat processing focus on apprenticeships
Meat processors are some of the biggest trainers of workers in New Zealand. Last year, almost 5.300 workers enrolled on NZQA recognised courses and almost all were trained in-house by their employer. This model of at-work employer training works for meat processing – a completion rate of 82 percent shows that the current model of industry training with Primary ITO works extremely well, explains MIA policy manager Paul Goldstone.
Because of this, meat processors are cautious about the changes proposed in the Government’s review
“We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater,” says Goldstone. “We appreciate that reforms of vocational education are needed in other sectors, but it is vital the workplace-based employer-led model, which is so successful for meat processing, is retained.”
For meat processors, an ITO focus has been on meat processing apprenticeships, which also allows the promotion of the available career pathways to school students, explains Leslie.
The Primary ITO capability matrix shows NZQA Levels 2, 3 and 4 in meat processing are offered.
Recently, suggestions from the external Industry Partnership Group – which includes representatives from the meat companies and MIA – have been assessed and led to a review of Level 3 Meat Processing.
“A couple of extra strands will be added to L3 that will probably come out in 2020,” Leslie explains.
This is a good example of the ITO’s strategy to align with all of its partners.
“We find out what their needs are first, build relationships and then see how we can best add value for the sector,” she says.
A specialist training advisor for the meat processing sector, in the form of the vastly experienced Brian Waltham, works directly with the meat processing apprentices throughout New Zealand and mentors them. This has resulted in a very high level of retention – over 90 percent – of the apprentices in the companies, which is “very positive,” says Leslie.
“To be able to have a training plan for people that supports them personally and professionally and sees them stable in a job, is actually very satisfying.”
A new development is ‘micro-credentials’ – short courses aimed at specific technical skills gaps in the industry.
“These have the potential to be a fantastic tool for addressing some of the technical areas which need improving in the industry – and in a way which is responsive to industry needs”, says Goldstone.
New programme for petfood manufacturers
The success of the Meat Processing qualifications model has also been promoted as a useful model for petfood manufacturers.
“We’ve been encouraging them to use the New Zealand Certificates in Meat Processing and in Food & Beverage Processing. It’s been really great for them because it’s given them a structure to use for their training,” says Leslie, adding early feedback from the initiative has been really good.
But the red meat sector extends “way beyond meat,” she says. The Primary ITO is working with B+LNZ and the Red Meat Profit Partnership both in the field and management spaces and has ongoing conversations re leadership, ITO training and structure for that training such as cadet programmes. It currently offers NZQA Levels 2, 3, 4 and 5 in Production Agriculture.
In 2018, around 800 trainees around the country were undertaking training in the meat and fibre sectors, with a high level of completion, says Leslie.
B+LNZ welcomes Government’s vision for a unified vocational education system that places industry at the heart of determining needs and allocating funding for both on- and off-job training, says Jeremy Baker, chief insight officer for the farmer levy-funded body.
“The primary sector faces some considerable challenges in meeting its workforce and skills needs. Labour and skills shortages act as a hand-brake on our productivity and profitability and we have been working collaboratively with our partners to identify solution,” he says.
B+LNZ will be working with Government to ensure that the roll-out of the vocational education reforms happen in a way that meets the sector’s needs, says Baker.
New certificate for deer husbandry
Another new initiative has seen the ITO working with Deer Industry New Zealand on a new L3 Deer Husbandry programme, which was introduced at the end of last year.
“We’ve had a really good uptake and people in that sector are very excited about it,” says Leslie, adding six courses have already been run.