Apprenticeships support salmon industry

7 June 2023

Apprenticeships are enabling South Island’s Mt Cook Alpine Salmon to retain and advance staff, says the company’s Technical Manager Paula Campbell.

Mt Cook Alpine Salmon Technical Manager Paula Campbell

Mt Cook Alpine Salmon farms freshwater King salmon in the canals of the Mackenzie and Waitaki districts, processing the fish at its Timaru plant and Christchurch smoke house. It employs 190 staff across the company.

In 2020 the company welcomed the opportunity to progress its staff further with training and nationally recognised qualifications when Primary ITO | Te Pūkenga offered the New Zealand Apprenticeship in Seafood Processing.

Since then, around 10 learners have enrolled in the programme each year, with 11 now qualified and more than 20 current apprentices. Most learners are focused on the fish and fish products strands of learning, while other topics include live holding, cleaning and sanitation, and seafood logistics.

Paula Campbell says the programme has meant more staff stepping into leadership roles and that is also improving staff retention. “The support and mentoring with this programme means they gain both the skills and the confidence to move up to roles of more responsibility.”

She says the broader skills they are gaining also make their roles more interesting and enjoyable.

“It gives them a better range of activities to do, ownership of what they are doing, and the ability to take on extra responsibilities, get promoted and earn more.”

Learning develops teamwork

Mt Cook Alpine Salmon has been able to incorporate the learning alongside the production schedule by having management team members carry out training and workplace assessments.

Four managers, each with different skill sets, assess the learners as they progress and Paula says this has developed stronger teamwork.

“A positive outcome is that this has developed stronger working relationships between the management and production teams. There is great connection now and this has created a positive work atmosphere.”

Team members have also benefitted from the opportunity to upskill away from the factory. “Having the learning programme gives us the time and space to communicate and work on our roles and skills away from that environment,” she says.

Primary ITO Seafood Sector Manager Daniel Edmonds says the New Zealand Apprenticeship in Seafood Processing works well for Mt Cook Alpine Salmon because the company has made a commitment to develop its team.

“They are really focused on supporting and training their people. Paula is a training champion who is passionate about the staff having opportunity to progress.”

Paula, who is a member of Primary ITO’s Seafood Industry Partnership Group advisory body, says having the opportunity to develop and qualify staff helps the whole seafood industry to progress. She’s looking forward to new Primary ITO| Te Pūkenga aquaculture training programmes becoming available in 2023.

The New Zealand Certificates in Aquaculture level 3 and 4, and an associated apprenticeship, offer specialised training across finfish, shellfish and hatchery, and formalise training for the aquaculture industry. Different strands of learning are available for the three major species in the New Zealand aquaculture industry, Pacific oysters, Greenshell mussels and King salmon.

“Our industry is very keen for this because we want to provide opportunities for people to learn. This helps us to recruit and retain staff, and it means we are not only offering them a job but a career for their future,” says Paula.

For more information about Primary ITO | Te Pūkenga Seafood and Aquaculture programmes, click here.