Hawke’s Bay’s Young Fruit Grower of the Year Jordan James sees himself carving out a good career in the region’s burgeoning apple industry.
“Apples are huge for Hawke’s Bay,” he says. “We’re exporting to countries all around the world and that provides good job security. With corporates owning and managing orchards, there’s also quite a career path in the industry. My next step is to become a foreman and there are 100 steps on the career ladder.”
Working on Mr Apple’s Close Orchard at Mangateretere, the 24-year-old got into orcharding by chance. He was working for a fast-food chain when a part-timer friend suggested he give it a try. That was 5½ years ago and Jordan has never looked back.
As an apprentice, he’s studying for the National Certificate in Horticulture (Advanced) (Fruit Production) (Level 4) through EIT. In fact, seven of the eight entrants who took part in the recent regional Young Fruit Grower competition are either studying or have completed their horticultural apprenticeships through EIT.
He says learning under horticulture tutor Gordon Reid is “brilliant”.
“Gordon is probably the best teacher I’ve had in my life. He knows what he’s doing and has so much time for the students too.”
Jordan also enjoys a job outdoors and working in a friendly team. All up, there are some 18 permanent staff employed on the 32ha orchard but seasonal workers take the numbers up to around 80 over harvest.
The orchard grows Pacific Rose, Pink Lady, Pacific Queen, Fuji and Lady in Red – “and Royal Gala of course, you can’t forget that old favourite”.
Jordan gained useful competition experience as an entrant in last year’s Hawke’s Bay Young Fruit Grower of the Year. This year, he says, a judge commented how much his speech presentation skills had improved.
To prepare for the upcoming New Zealand Young Fruit Grower of the Year competition, he’s been talking to representatives in various horticultural industries to get an idea of what he might expect.
At the national event, he will compete against other regional finalists for the prestigious New Zealand Young Fruit Grower and Young Grower of the Year titles. The winner will receive $2000 in cash as well as sponsors’ prizes.
Horticulture tutor Gordon Reid says Hawke’s Bay’s apprenticeship programme is well supported by the local industry.
“We currently have 40 students who started the programme this year and many more are into their second and final years.”
A three-way partnership between apprentices, employers and EIT, the three-year part-time programme comprises on-job units, which are signed off by employers, and off-job unit standards taught by EIT.
Graduates can pursue professional careers as orchard and vineyard leading hands, foremen, managers or future owner-operators.
Enjoying his job and living in Haumoana, Jordan can see no reason to leave Hawke’s Bay.
“Home is where the heart is. The beach is across the road and I fish in summer. But right now,” he adds with a smile, “I’m spending most of my time at work.”