Over 200 unemployed workers from the Southern region attended the Agricultural Redeployment Expo in Queenstown and Te Anau last week. The new initiative, the brainchild of Penny Simmonds, Chief Executive of the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) is an innovative collaboration between SIT and industry. The aim of the project provides a pathway for unemployed workers from the Covid-19 lockdown back into jobs in the primary industries.
Speaking at the Queenstown Expo, Ms Simmonds said she was at home on her farm during lockdown and as she looked out the window at an agricultural contractor working, she realised the usual intake of Irish drivers would not be able to get into New Zealand due to current border restrictions. Very quickly this would mean a group of employers would be short of workers for the coming season. At the same time, her daughter working in Queenstown’s tourism industry was about to lose her job.
Ms Simmonds said “Covid-19 had been a terrible thing for New Zealand, but one good thing that’s come out of it has been highlighting the value of NZ’s primary sector – particularly the agriculture and forestry”.
“Making the primary sector as productive as possible will assist in New Zealand’s recovery so it was important to redirect people to employers who had jobs available now, to allow those rural contractors to be successful in the coming season”.
SIT has moved with haste to produce the new training initiative for those who have lost jobs since lockdown began in March. The collaboration with contractors, local councils and community leaders has made the scheme fly. Ms Simmonds said she was delighted with all the work that has gone into making the Expo such a success.
David Kean – Rural Contractors New Zealand President, said there has always been an issue around how to get kiwis into agriculture and this is something we want to resolve. Speaking at the Queenstown Expo, he believes the redeployment scheme will help get more kiwis employed in Agricultural Contracting. He said “Every season 150 – 300 overseas staff are required to keep contractors’ machines running”.
Queenstown Lakes District Councillor, Penny Clark, was enthusiastic about the opportunities provided by the initiative describing them as “just fabulous”, and talked about the synergy between the sectors. “Hospitality people are right-brainers and doers – so are people in agriculture”.
Lee Ellingham was one of the first workers to sign up for the training initiative at the Queenstown Expo last week and started her course this week. Lee lost her job the week before lockdown began; with a long career driving trucks she was employed in Queenstown as a driver, taking trucks and coaches to and from the ski fields.
At the end of day one on her course she said “there are no words to describe how I feel about my new direction, and path back to employment.”
She said the new students had been given a warm welcome on the Telford campus from the staff and other students and the food was unbelievably good. They had already received their overalls and steel-capped boots to be work-ready and had started their learning with a Health and Safety talk.
Lee also wanted to give a special mention to the tractor tutors: Sam, John and Dave of Hughes Contracting who were instructing the students on operating three brand-new Case tractors.
“Without them we wouldn’t be able to do this, 90% of us are new and haven’t been near a tractor. They’re hands-on and are giving us confidence with the machinery”.
“I feel honoured to be given the opportunity to be on the course, as I wasn’t sure if my age or gender would be an issue. To have people take the time out of their busy jobs and spend time away from their families to teach us, talk to us, and to be treated as humans, it’s been unbelievable”.
Similarly, until recently Chris Jackson was a Queenstown-based helicopter pilot working for a large tourism company prior to lockdown. He was laid off alongside around 300 other people, and said he’s accepted there’s not going to be much work available in Queenstown for some time.
It was time to learn a new skill so Mr Jackson attended the Queenstown expo as he likes working outside and being in the outdoors; the thought of digger or tractor driving appealed to him. “Driving a digger would have to be the next best thing to flying a plane or helicopter”.
Mr Jackson enrolled in the first intake and is settling into student life at Telford this week. He said of the course after 2 days, “It’s amazing. It’s incredible a course like this has been pulled together so quickly”.
He added SIT have recognised the demand for jobs in the sector and it’s been an essential industry for a long time so has some depth and stability. “We’re learning from experienced instructors.
Learning from people in the industry, they have knowledge to pass on because they’re out there doing it”.
“We’re all treating it like one long job interview. It’s good to be in a course with like-minded people, we’re all in the same situation, we’re all similarly motivated and want to learn.”
Sarah Greaney, Chair of the Fiordland Community Board had an incredibly busy lockdown with the loss of jobs in the tourism industry causing need in the community. There has been a co-ordinated response amongst community groups to provide aid, from practical assistance like distributing food parcels to giving helpful advice to those foreign nationals and locals needing support. Speaking about the Te Anau Expo she said it was fantastic. “People were really engaged with what was on offer. It’s great to see people signing up and taking these opportunities".
Numbers at both expos were solid, with around 130 attending the Queenstown Expo, and 83 at the Te Anau Expo. Ms Simmonds said they are feeling positive with the turn out in both locations and pleased to see both kiwis and foreign nationals making inquiries to get on board with the training and redeployment collaboration.
Remaining Intake Dates:
2020 Semester 3: 13 July to 21 August
2020 Semester 4: 27 July to 04 September
2020 Semester 5: 10 August to 18 September
2020 Semester 6: 24 August to 02 October