Training lifts productivity most of all

8 July 2024

This article was published by Farmers Weekly, 25 June 2024.

The prime minister told Fieldays about three areas for the greatest lift in primary production and productivity – water storage, infrastructure and trade. At Primary ITO we’d pose a fourth element: people. Specifically, training the skilled and knowledgeable people our industries need.

Christopher Luxon says he wants to eliminate barriers to investment in water storage, ensure modern and reliable infrastructure, and build trade through deeper connections with other countries to reach millions more consumers.

Without wanting to downplay the critical importance of these three, we say that having enough skilled and knowledgeable people in the industry is the single factor that will enable Aotearoa New Zealand to make the most of the potential of the country’s No 1 export industry.

And that’s a tough one to crack. At Primary ITO we see great stories where farmers and growers start their primary sector learning journey at school, progress to training on a farm or orchard, and end up the leaders for their industries.

Along the way they learn the skills and knowledge to maximise production, deliver the best care for livestock, manage the farm environment and grow crops, and develop the people who work for them.

However, when times are tough – and we know they are – training is an item in the budget that farmers look at very hard. This is one reason we were pleased to see the ongoing commitment to the Apprenticeship Boost in the government’s May Budget. By contributing $500 a month to businesses employing a first-year apprentice, it makes affording training a priority.

We are looking forward to the next step in the government’s plan – announcing the targeted sectors where the Apprenticeship Boost will continue beyond this year. Right now, our industries are covered and we very much hope that will remain the case.

At Primary ITO, we’ve added another contribution. For the whole of 2024, we have made nearly all agriculture and training fees up to 50% off.

Returning to the prime minister’s growth areas. With water storage, our communities, iwi leaders and international partners rightly expect rigorous environmental standards where this precious commodity is concerned. I’d argue that this starts with the people on the ground in all industries charged with ensuring businesses do their part.

On the farm, that means knowing how to implement a Farm Environment Plan, ensuring the farm manages risks to water catchments, and improves practices. That’s the type of skill and knowledge that takes training.

Likewise in trade, we know New Zealand’s key and growing international trade partners rightly demand the best food and fibres from our industries. If our products aren’t the best, there will always be someone else who can meet our trading partners’ demands. Lifting production standards, quality and volume takes skilled people, and people aren’t born with these skills – they need training.

An important development for agriculture and horticulture training is the disestablishment of Te Pūkenga – the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology. Currently Primary ITO is a business division of Te Pūkenga, along with other industry training organisations, polytechnics and institutes of technology.

But as Te Pūkenga’s disestablishment progresses, we’re taking the opportunity to refresh our presence with farmers, growers, employers and industries – like at Fieldays – and making sure they know we’re here to support them with their business needs.

Finally, I’d like to issue a challenge to industry. At Primary ITO, every year we are training upwards of 15,000 people in the primary industries. However, as the Ministry of Primary Industries and others have noted, as at 2019 the sector employed 367,000 people. We need to ensure that more and more of our workforce are engaged in training, ideally in the workplace.

These skilled people will be the way we leverage Aotearoa New Zealand’s primary sector competitive advantages and investment in the government’s other priority areas of water storage, infrastructure and trade.

By Andrea Leslie - Executive Director of Primary ITO.