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On the job to get people working

February 13, 2018


 COMBINED EFFORTS: From left (front) are EIT tutor Andrew Baker, Terry Williams, Tania Nepe, Thompson’s kiwifruit supervisor Belinda Huriwai, Marelda Hanson and Thompson’s kiwifruit operations manager John Phelps. In the middle are Della Wharehinga, Hera Ripia, Charleen Wilson, Michael Chaffey and First Choice Employment Services’ Sam Leahy and Mark Gray. At the back are Trevor Ratahi, Kane Te Arapo Toki and EIT tutor Mike Beedie


THE lives of 12 Gisborne people have been transformed by jobs, thanks to the combined efforts of a Gisborne horticultural employer and various local work and training agencies. The aim is to meet a chronic shortage of horticultural workers, which is expected to become critical as an additional 500 hectares of new planting comes on stream.

The initiative is spearheaded by Thompson’s Horticulture Ltd in partnership with EIT Tairawhiti’s School of Primary Industries. The project follows a similar project with horticulturist Mark Geuze and his business Under the Vine.

Supporting Thompson’s Horticulture’s effort are the Ministry of Social Development’s (MSD) Gisborne branch and First Choice Employment Services.

Together these agencies are providing the training, support and mentoring to bring the newly recruited workers to a level where they are making a significant contribution to the horticultural sector and improving their income, education and future job prospects.

Workers were recruited by Work and Income and initially provided with some basic life skills training by First Choice Employment Services.

The group then started work and began their on-the-job training with EIT, along with classes in literacy, numeracy and the theory behind the tasks they are performing, such as canopy management in kiwifruit vines.

Indoor classes

The indoor classes are delivered when there is downtime during wet weather, says EIT head of school for primary industries Steve Phelps.

At the end of their course the team will be equipped with a NZ Certificate in Primary Industry Skills.

Thompson’s Horticulture, has the spread and scale of crops, in both kiwifruit and grapes, to provide year-round work, said kiwifruit operations manager John Phelps.

“We can keep 50 people going throughout the year, picking up to 100 people during seasonal peaks.”

The crew being trained by EIT are part of their core workforce, to reduce the ever increasing competition with other operators for workers.

“Once they are upskilled we want to provide them with the incentives to stay on,” he said.

Halfway through the three month course the company is already delighted with the results.

“Their attendance, punctuality and work ethics have been fantastic. They come to work and work.”

Mr Phelps attributes a large part of this success to Thompson’s supervisor Belinda Huriwai, who is their mentor, guide and confidant.

Team ethic

She said the group have developed a team ethic and are developing pride in their work.

“One woman has not worked for over 20 years and she is loving it.”

Because Belinda picks the workers up in the morning and works with them all day she can identify problems, such as holiday childcare, that can put obstacles in the workers’ way.

Issues are discussed at fortnightly meetings between the five agencies involved to ensure a successful outcome.

Three of the workers are single parents and Mr Phelps has worked out systems that provide them the flexibility to be home for their children after school.

“We can adjust their tasks according to their hours because we believe that six hours are better than no hours, although ideally, we would like to have a whole van load of part timers to help with the transport logistics.”

Already some of the single parents taking part have had friends asking how they can get on board. Those supporting them hope outcomes will justify repeat courses.

MSD regional labour market manager Karen Bartlett said progress so far has exceeded all expectations.

“We have good retention at this stage which is fantastic and issues are worked through before they become a problem,” she said.

Even with scorching temperatures course participant Tania Nepe said she could not wait to get back into it after the Christmas break.

After years at home with children she was grateful for the opportunity. She said the money was better than what she was getting on the benefit, and would get even better once they were up to full speed.