A phone call asking for help and a desire to assist a sector that’s struggling to find experienced staff, is all it took for a Masterton farm machinery retailer to step forward and provide a solution for the Telford Campus this year.
Tulloch Farm Machines, in conjunction with Agricentre South, arranged the loan of three new Case IH tractors, plus a mower and a rake to Telford to enable those undertaking agricultural contractor training to learn new skills.
The six-week course is funded by the Ministry of Primary Industries to upskill people who are retraining to drive tractors and farm machinery after losing their jobs due to Covid-19.
There’s a massive national shortage of skilled drivers and operators of farm machinery, with concerns there could be a 32 per cent drop in activity, worth $65 million, without the annual national influx of overseas workers to fill the roles.
Telford programme manager Debbie Rankin said she was overwhelmed with the support from John Tulloch, managing director of Tulloch Farm Machines.
“We put the call out through the Rural Contractors' Association and John had vehicles at Agricentre South in Milton. Agricentre South, together with John, organised the three tractors, mower and rake.”
The support was vital to the success of the programme, she said.
“Our tractor simulator was the only resource aligned to rural contractor training that we had at Telford. The tractors look great, are new, and that's motivating for trainees. The new technology in these tractors means they are relatively easy to drive and the students feel a sense of accomplishment early on. They are 'real' and help to set students up for success.”
The students learnt fundamental driving and operational skills such as driving on roads, backing, attaching equipment and operating PTOs, Debbie said.
Many of the students had never driven the vehicles so having them onsite made a huge difference in their training, she said.
John said he could see what was happening in the industry and realised he was in a position to help. “We sell and support machinery to the farming and agricultural contracting sectors, so we were very well aware of the pinch coming on with overseas operators not being available this season,” he said.
A recent survey of members of Rural Contractors New Zealand found 57 contractors urgently need 206 skilled operators.
“We organised some consignment machines at our dealer Agricentre South in Milton, who have been our dealer for many years in Otago, and Adam from Agricentre South then organised the deliveries to Telford.”
John said it was the right thing to do. “Our roots are in contracting so we understand the pressures and challenges of the game.”
Agricentre South marketing manager Suzanne van Pels said the business was committed to promoting the primary industry as a great career option for young people.
“We do this by hosting schools and other education groups at our business to showcase the pathways available, and naturally the support to Telford by providing tractors and gear was another great opportunity to give students some hands-on experience,” she said.
“Since we’ve been getting involved in these projects, we’ve had fantastic feedback from students and jobseekers being able to talk first-hand to some of our younger staff in particular about their experiences and what they can expect from employers when they join the workforce.”
Debbie said both staff and students had been delighted to have the latest equipment to learn with. “I hope we can continue the relationship in the future so our students are kept up to date with tractor technology!”