Apprenticeship programme helps address skills shortage

9 August 2022

A new apiculture apprenticeship programme launched just before New Zealand’s first Covid-19 lockdown 2020 has become a useful tool to combat the skills shortage for large apiaries operation Comvita.

Launched by Comvita’s National Head of Apiaries Trevor Clarke and Government Minister Andrew Little at Comvita’s Support Centre in Paengaroa in the Bay of Plenty, the key intent of the programme was to expand local beekeeper capability and increase diversity including providing opportunities for Māori, Pacifica, and women.

Comvita is now on its second intake.

Previously reliant on an annual influx of northern hemisphere beekeepers who follow the summer seasons to bolster apiary teams, the indefinite closing of New Zealand’s borders in 2020 was set to stress more than just the company’s beehives.

Comvita HR Operations Manager Coralie Cross says Comvita is thankful it had started an apprenticeship programme to encourage more New Zealanders into beekeeping before the pandemic arrived in Aotearoa.

In 2020 Comvita started with eight apprentice placements, supported and funded by the government’s Mana In Mahi programme and delivered with the support of industry training organisation Primary ITO, with plans of adding eight new places each season.

Primary ITO supports apprentices in a number of ways. These include coordinating and developing training plans, pastoral care and regular goal setting to support their progression through the programme. Comvita supervisors verify apprentice competence to complete tasks, and registered assessors sign off their unit standards that are part of the training programme.

Coralie says the programme has attracted a cross-section of people. Comvita now has four women and several young apprentice beekeepers, and others of all ages have expressed interest in the programme and ‘pivoting’ to a new lifestyle and career.

“People from a mix of backgrounds are changing their life after Covid. We are seeing many older applicants coming through in the 40+ age-group in this round.”

"Our purpose is to work in harmony with nature to help people feel better and live well. It’s fantastic that we are seeing like-minded candidates coming through. They are people who enjoy being outdoors, in the sunshine and among nature in our beautiful environment, working with and caring for the bees."

It takes three to four years for apprentices to train to beekeeper level.

Coralie says the programme has been a remarkable success. “We have seen most of our apprentices fly. It’s been so successful that our managers are now all screaming out for more apprentices.”

And recruits are enjoying their new career so much they are also recommending friends and family join. “It is drawing others in to work for us. We are getting more people actively seeking out Comvita as an employer.”

The strategy is to secure the workforce for the future and ensure that as the Comvita crop and bee numbers grow it has a reliable and stable team for future seasons.

“We have found incredible value in the programme bringing in and training local beekeeper apprentices to support our whole apiary team.”

“We saw the positive results from the investment immediately. I think we will never turn back,” says Coralie Cross.

Case study – Jess Bligh, Beekeeper Comvita


Former fashion industry E-commerce manager and sales representative Jess Bligh is thankful for the opportunity the apprenticeship programme has given her to change career to beekeeping, a job she now loves.

Jess had returned home to New Zealand after four years working in fashion in New York and Melbourne and was ready for a life closer to family and nature, working outside and on the land.

After growing up in the Rangitikei area on her parents’ small sheep and beef holding, she was keen to live close to the area. She spotted Comvita advertising for apprentices and was offered an opportunity in the first apprentice intake in 2020.

“It was pretty cool being able to have a complete change of career and jump into a role.”

Jess says she loves working with highly knowledgeable people that she learns from every day and being out in nature working in beautiful areas.

“I also love being a part of an industry that is helping our ecosystem. Mother Nature influences everything we do and if we work in unison with Papatūānuku (the land, Mother earth figure) we end up in a balance of harmony.”

Jess says she enjoys working in an environment that aligns with her values and is proud of Comvita’s formation and evolving story where it does good for those in need, such as providing healing manuka honey products for wildlife injured in the Australian bushfires.

This year Jess has an exciting new responsibility to manage the Queen Breeding Unit at Whanganui, producing and rearing high-quality queens for Comvita’s breeding programme.

Jess says she is thankful for the apprenticeship opportunity and she encourages others to consider making the change to a career in beekeeping. “I will do this job for life, absolutely definitely.”

Learn more about the New Zealand Apprenticeship in Apiculture here.