Anne Lee

Changing to an hourly rate and valuing accommodation and other benefits at their full market rate could both go a long way towards making a career in dairying more attractive to young New Zealanders.

Matt Bell’s Kellogg Rural Leadership study surveyed secondary school students from four urban high schools to find out what their perceptions of dairying farming are, along with their understanding of what a career in dairying entails and whether they’d consider a career in dairying.

He also reviewed a myriad of studies already undertaken into how to attract and retain people.

The messages from the previous studies were loud and clear, Matt says.

“Long hours and minimum time off is common place and that approach is no longer viable.

‘Based on my survey data that gives the potential for 12,500 to be interested in dairying. Even if it was half of that – it’s still 6000 young New Zealanders we could attract.

“Eleven days on, three days off or 12 days on and two off just doesn’t compare well to other industries and jobs. But that accounts for more than half of the rosters out there.

Matt’s survey went to students aged 14-18 years and was sent to four urban schools in Christchurch and Auckland – Shirley Boys High school, Christchurch Girls High School, St Margaret’s High School and Glendowie High School.

A total of 176 students responded to the survey. Just over half (51%) had been on a dairy farm.

When asked what they thought about when thought of dairy farming, 16% said hard work, long hours and early mornings.

About 36% knew little or nothing about dairying farming and had no idea where to start when it came to finding out about career options or what it offered.

Almost 23% said they would consider a career in dairying with those students saying they loved being outdoors, their family had a background in farming, they loved working with animals, it looked fun or interesting.

“That’s encouraging – even more so if you consider in 2017 the Ministry of Education figures show there were 56,835 high school leavers.

“Based on my survey data that gives the potential for 12,500 to be interested in dairying. Even if it was half of that – it’s still 6000 young New Zealanders we could attract,” Matt says.

There were also lessons to be learned from the 77% of students who said they wouldn’t consider a career in dairying with reasons including long hours, isolation and early mornings.

Happily, only one person thought farming was for people who aren’t smart.

When asked what they thought the starting income was, most said $35,000-$45,000.

“If that’s what they think they’re going to earn and if they think they’re going to be working 60 hours a week in 11 day stretches they’re not going to be heading this way in a hurry when there’s plenty of competition from other careers.

“We’ve got to show them what their accommodation and firewood, meat and milk (if you provide those) are really worth, not what you value them at for tax purposes.

“We have to look at how we run our farms, how often someone is getting up early to get the first herd in, what time they go home.

“We have to think about rostering time off so it’s more frequent and we have to use social media to show life on the farm in a positive, fun light.

“We also have to look at how we pay people. An hourly rate is more transparent for staff and employers.

“There are plenty of solutions out there that don’t have to cost a lot or any more in fact if we get innovating.

“The problem is ours – its’ behind the farm gate – it’s not with the people we’re trying to attract.”