Plan to strengthen primary sector workforce

  • Hon Damien O’Connor

The Government and primary sector are joining forces and taking action to fix the skills gap facing farmers and growers, Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said today.

“It’s estimated the primary sector will need another 50,000 workers by 2025 and over 92,000 more workers with qualifications. While the sector is on the rise, it is still struggling to attract, train and retain the diverse range of people it needs to continue growing”, Damien O’Connor said.

“The primary sector is the engine room of our economy and the heart of our rural communities. We want to see it grow and thrive and – for that – we need a workforce.

“After nine years of neglect we must take immediate action to ensure we are attracting new skills and talent, providing high-quality education and training, and offering great workplace conditions.

“To that end, today I’m happy to join with the Primary Industries Skills Leaders Working Group and launch the Food & Fibre Skills Action Plan 2019-2022.

“This is part of the Government’s comprehensive plan to boost skills training and get more people into work. It is part of the wider reforms the Government is making to vocational education system which includes the $18 million being invested in prototype Centres of Vocational Excellence.

“The Working Group developed the plan with input from across industry, government and education sectors. I want to thank the members, and the organisations they represent, for their commitment. Their experience and perspectives have been tremendously valuable.

“This type of collaboration between industry and government is vital to tackle the long-term challenge of skills shortages,’’ Damien O’Connor said.

Working group member Jeremy Baker, of Beef+Lamb NZ, says the plan identifies four key opportunities to build a strong food and fibre workforce – knowledge, attraction, education and employment.

“The sectors are facing significant workforce challenges. The world of work is changing and we need a responsive and innovative workforce. This plan draws together and builds on many excellent initiatives already under way across individual sectors and government into a cohesive plan we can take forward together.’’

The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) also launched their online resource, the Food & Fibre Careers Hub alongside the Action Plan.

An industry-led Establishment Group has been set up to maintain momentum and to start delivering the actions.

Notes to editor

The Food & Fibre Skills Action Plan 2019-2022 (Action Plan)

The full Food and Fibre Skills Action Plan and a high level summary can be found on the MPI website:

The Action Plan identifies four key opportunities to build a strong food and fibre workforce:

  1. Knowledge - generating accurate and consistent information so that the food and fibre sectors understand and can articulate their workforce needs.
  2. Attraction - changing perceptions to attract more people into food and fibre education, training and employment.
  3. Education – shaping the education and training system to produce the skills required to meet the food and fibre workforce’s needs.
  4. Employment - creating great workplace conditions to attract and retain the talented employees we need long-term.

It addresses common food and fibre workforce challenges by complementing or building on existing initiatives. It does not cover general workforce challenges faced across other sectors or general trades or professional services.

The actions initially focus on the agriculture and horticulture industries, including meat and dairy processing. They do not cover the fishing or forestry sectors (forestry is covered by its own action plan due out early 2020) or other food processing industries.

However, there is potential for growth and there is a real desire for a fully pan-sector approach. This is the start of a broader pan-sector and government partnership and the intention is for all sectors to be involved and benefit from these actions.

The plan’s actions has been structured in two stages: Stage 1 – ‘quick wins’ that have funding and are already underway or about to start; and Stage 2 – actions that are dependent on the progress of wider government policy changes before they can be developed further and implemented. 

An industry-led Establishment Group has been set up to maintain momentum and to start delivering the actions. This group includes forestry and seafood representation and the Group will also engage with the wider food and fibre sector, government and Māori stakeholders to ensure the Action Plan is a true partnership and represents everyone who plays a role in the success of the Food & Fibre workforce.

The success of the Action Plan relies on a robust governance structure so it proposes the establishment of a Food and Fibre Skills Partnership Group to continue the plan through to Stage 2 to oversee its implementation, monitoring and evaluation.  MPI, MOE, TEC and MBIE are members of the Establishment Group.