Developing people capability key to successful commercial bee operation

12 February 2024

A culture centred around developing people and providing opportunities has helped grow S J Apiaries from a backyard business with a few hives to a large commercial bee operation.

Based in the Rodney district north of Auckland, S J Apiaries (SJA) is a commercial bee operation which supplies live queen and packaged bees to beekeepers in New Zealand and Canada, has queen rearing and pollination operations, and hives across the Kaipara district.

SJA Apprentices (from left): Reyali Matito, Jaymarch Casido and Welbert Archide.

SJA Apprentices (from left): Reyali Matito, Jaymarch Casido and Welbert Archide.

The business began 15 years ago in the backyard of Managing Director Jason Marshall. Since then, it’s grown into a large and diverse business, dedicated to servicing the commercial bee industry.

Jason says growing to a large operation required a people-centred approach and part of that is offering training opportunities. Offering staff the opportunity to train on-the-job and gain qualifications for their future is part of building and looking after the team, he says.

Growing people and skills through training

Currently six SJA beekeepers are studying either Level 3 or Level 4 of the New Zealand Apprenticeship in Apiculture with Primary ITO. The 20-month programme covers the fundamentals of beekeeping and managing a business and includes on-going training support and an annual block course.

Having training available helps attract workers and part of the SJA recruitment process, says Jason.

After three months new recruits who meet the company’s criteria are offered training or apprenticeship opportunities.

Jason says work-based training gives staff a career path and structure for learning, as well as recognition of their skills. “It gives us a structured way to explain why we do things a certain way and what has led to that before we assign them out to a job.”

Learners and employers are supported by a Primary ITO Training Advisor with regular contact and site visits to discuss the work and plan future modules. A learning support team and mentors are available to learners who require additional support.

Martina Balasova is the Training Advisor supporting SJA, and says the company takes time out to train learners and is invested in its staff doing well.

Training results in high staff retention

Jason says having team members continue to learn as they work fits with the company’s plan to develop a positive and rewarding workplace.

Since the business started it has always had beekeepers undertaking industry training on the job. Jason says this means staff retention is high, with those who have completed work-based training in particular staying with the company for many years.

Another positive aspect of the training is that the regular sessions provide a time and space for information sharing and planning which is helpful for the whole team.

“It gives us the opportunity to focus on what we do, why we are doing it, what are the different ways this could be done, and what this is leading too.”

Regular learning sessions support business

The learning sessions also allow the team to discuss challenges that arise, and problem solve them in an open environment. “We try to have a culture where it is ok to speak up and challenge what we are doing, and this training supports that.”

Looking to the future Jason says SJA will continue to offer work-based training to new trainees who show potential and an interest to stay in the industry.

“That is part of looking after our people. It is one part of building a successful culture and business and the Primary ITO training opportunities fit in with that.”

Beekeepers relish training opportunity

Three SJA employees taking the New Zealand Apprenticeship in Apiculture are enjoying learning new skills and thankful for the collaboration between their employer and Primary ITO that has given them the opportunity.

A sting by a bee was the catalyst to Welbert Archide beginning a career in beekeeping, which has since turned into his passion.

Because he didn’t get an allergic reaction, Welbert was inspired to consider working with bees, and later began studying pollination at the Department of Agriculture in his home country the Philippines, before finding work in beekeeping in Saudi Arabia.

In 2015 he moved to New Zealand to work at S J Apiaries and enjoying work-based training. Welbert “It is great to have the opportunity to learn new ways of doing things and refresh your knowledge.” The qualification will also recognise his existing skills and could provide opportunities for more responsibility, he says.

Beekeeper and Queen breeder and mum Mel Griffiths loves her job and after eight years working in a range of roles at S J Apiaries, is rapt to be working toward her first ever qualification.

Mel has started Level 4 which covers beekeeping management, disease, and food safety, and says she is particularly enjoying further learning on flowers and soils.