Apprenticeships provide opportunities for staff and employers

18 August 2022

Post-harvest apprenticeships are providing an opportunity for large South Auckland kiwifruit operation Punchbowl PackCo to grow and advance members of its packhouse team and lift both skills and morale in the company.

Human resources co-ordinator Sharnay Toa is a good example. Sharnay has gone from being shy among others in a professional setting and unsure about her career path, to a job she loves in recruitment where she’s giving others a start in the horticulture industry.

Sharnay moved to Franklin in 2019 with previous experience working in a supermarket under her belt and unsure what she wanted to do next. She needed work so answered an advert for casual workers in the Punchbowl packhouse and was instantly struck by the complexity and scale of the operation.

“I was very intrigued at seeing the entire packhouse in action and how it all worked. There was so much more happening behind the scenes than I imagined.”

She took a role as a casual packer and by the end of the year was offered a permanent role and an opportunity to study for a New Zealand Apprenticeship in Post-Harvest with Primary ITO.

“At first, I didn’t think it would be my cup of tea or that I would have the inclination to finish it, possibly because when I finished school, I was not interested in doing further study. I wasn’t too sure if study was for me but now I love it.”

Study opens up career opportunity

Sharnay’s confidence began to grow with the study, and she was soon seconded into the office to help with recruiting casual staff for the packing season. “I didn’t have the confidence to talk on the phone that much but thought I would give it a try.”

It was back out to the packhouse for the 2021 season, and then Sharnay was offered a permanent role as an HR co-ordinator. A year later in the role, Sharnay is still a little surprised at her progress and how much she has grown.

“The study definitely helped boost my confidence. I was not one to talk on the phone a lot which is what my role now involves!”

She says a turning point was attending a group communication class led by Primary ITO trainers at the packhouse during her study. “That one really helped me learn to talk to people and connect more professionally.”

Sharnay is passionate about the journey that kiwifruit make from picking to going through the many stages in the packhouse, which involve people managing infantry, graders, logistics and the wider operation.

“There is so much more than you would expect behind the scenes, from when the kiwifruit enters the packhouse and the areas it has to go through before it reaches the packing line.”

And with a career path and more opportunities available to her, Sharnay is keen to learn more and has started to study toward the Level 4 Horticulture Apprenticeship which has a focus on people and production management. “It is about leadership, so I am excited to keep going and do some more.”

Apprenticeships grow workforce skills

Punchbowl operates a busy large seasonal packhouse and cool-store facility from its Franklin base and owns, manages and leases kiwifruit orchards in the Auckland and Waikato areas.

In 2019 it signed up 20 learners to study the New Zealand Apprenticeship in Post-Harvest with Primary ITO.

Training and Mentoring Coordinator, Kaitanya Santos says funding through the Government’s Apprenticeship Boost and Mana in Mahi programmes enabled her role to be established to provide on-the-ground support and work with their Primary ITO training adviser.

Kaitanya says studying toward an apprenticeship qualification has been transformational for many learners and provided an opportunity to lift the whole company and bring people together toward common goals.

Most learners were hesitant and nervous in the beginning, having not been involved in study before, but gained confidence from the early Primary ITO learning sessions.

“After that they asked a lot of questions during and after class. They are also taking a lot of initiative too, showing eagerness to catch up if they miss a class for example.”

Kaitanya says the growth and development in the learners is noticeable in their roles at work. Some have taken on leadership roles, such as teaching and supervising others, while others are showing more enthusiasm and motivation and able to apply their learnings day-to-day at work.

Primary ITO Training Adviser Martina Balasova says the apprenticeships are an opportunity for workers to earn while they upskill and gain a qualification, which in turn opens more opportunities for them and their employer. They learn about time management, commitment and setting goals for the future.

“Everyone wins, the employee, the employer and the quality of production for the company as a whole,” says Martina.

For more information on our range of post-harvest programmes Primary ITO has available, click here.