Keeping you up to date about food & fibre

Learning allows young employees to grow

19 Mar 2021

New image block

Although the food and fibre sector will need new people to fill 50,000 jobs by 2030, it also has to retain the young talent it already has at its disposal. At the recent Primary Industry Capability Alliance research and insights forum called Growing Our Workforce Through Quality Workplaces, a panel of young people already in the sector discussed ways of achieving that. Colin Williscroft reports.

Encouraging and providing learning opportunities to help young employees grow, both into their jobs and as people, will help the food and fibre sector not only retain the talent at its disposal but also foster its development.

That was one of the overarching themes that emerged from the panel made up of Ministry for Primary Industries skills policy analyst Hiraina Tangiora, New Zealand Merino Company Canterbury area manager Jack Ternouth, Bank of NZ agribusiness partner Katie Moffat, Massey University bachelor of horticultural science student George Hyauiason and Southland dairy farm assistant Paige Harris.

Moffat says learning, growing as a person and having some fun are three areas that mean a lot to the next generation of workers and helping them achieve those goals is something employers would do well to keep in mind. Providing staff with known and clear pathways on how to rise up the ranks would also help.

Ternouth agrees and says fostering training in a potential next step up the ladder is one way of doing that. He also advocates more cross-sector collaboration, even if it’s only for six weeks. Then employees can go back to their original job, taking with them the different perspectives they have learned. That will keep them agile and allow them to move into new roles, which will make the overall food and fibre sector more attractive.

He says providing staff with some sort of ownership and responsibility will make it more likely they feel like they are contributing, which will make them more effective workers. 

Tangiora says she would be unhappy if she felt unconnected to her work and being able to learn on the job strengthens that connection, so it’s important to provide those opportunities. That feeling of satisfaction will also help them achieve outside work as well, which all feeds back into more contented employees.

Young employees are also likely to be more productive if they are treated as individuals.

Harris says for an employer to get the best out of her, they need to understand what motivates her and then tailor that to the workplace. Job satisfaction, including what she gets out of it, will lead her to stay in a job longer.

All the panelists have university degrees but they agree that, although the pathway worked for them, it’s not the only way into rewarding careers in the sector.

Tangiora says improving vocational training opportunities will help to raise skills standards across the board, while Harris says although she would not have the career she has now without going to university, that was more about her individual circumstances. She says university might teach people to learn and a degree might help find a job, but it’s someone’s work ethic that will allow them to keep it.

Harris, Moffat and Hyauiason all say ensuring staff are proud to be part of their industry will go a long way to ensuring they stay in it, with Harris and Hyauiason pointing out the damage campaigns like dirty dairying can do.

Hyauiason would also like to see more workplace discussions about mental health.

Relative youth and inexperience has been a hurdle for Moffat and Ternouth to sometimes overcome when dealing with farmers who might be twice their age, especially for Moffat who says being a young woman adds another level to that.

However, they both say sitting down and building trust, showing they are knowledgeable and passionate about what they do, will help overcome that.

“But you’re not expected to know everything straight away,” Ternouth says. “And if you don’t understand, just say so, so you don’t destroy that trust.”

Harris agrees.

“Don’t be afraid to reach out and ask for help.” 

Meet the panelists

Hiraina Tangiora – MPI skills policy analyst

  • Currently studying a master of business studies in mutually prosperous trade at Massey University.
  • Lincoln University, bachelor of commerce double major in supply chain management and international business.
  • Spent 18 months in the Zespri graduate programme.

Jack Ternouth – New Zealand Merino Company Canterbury area manager

  • Lincoln University, bachelor of commerce (agriculture).
  • First role as a graduate was with Synlait.

Katie Moffat – Bank of New Zealand agribusiness partner

  • Lincoln University, bachelor of agricultural science in soil science (first class honours).
  • First role as a graduate was with the BNZ in Hamilton before moving to Palmerston North.

George Hyauiason – Massey University Student

  • Career possibilities in the food and fibre sector opened up by a teacher at Bethlehem College.
  • In the final year of bachelor of horticultural science at Massey University.
  • Uses summer breaks to gain experience in the sector, most recently on an internship programme with Zespri.

Paige Harris – Southland dairy farm assistant

  • Lincoln University, bachelor of agricultural science (first class honours).
  • Honours research in collaboration with DairyNZ and Southern Dairy Hub 

Original story from Farmers' Weekly