Opinion: Government should use tertiary funding to push Kiwis into primary industries

Who wants a free education?
Who wants a free education? Photo credit: Getty

OPINION: Imagine two high school students.

One drops out to work in a factory.

The other finishes school, and now travels the world with chefs and photographers.

They're both 25 years old, and earning $100,000.

How did they do it? They chose to work in the 'food' industry, which has for too long been called a 'primary' industry.

Whatever lifestyle you choose, it's there for the taking in the food industry.

The production, processing and marketing of food is one of the fastest growing and affluent career choices you can make in New Zealand, and it doesn't discriminate.

I speak from personal experience - I was one of these people.

In my role as host and producer on the radio show Rural Exchange, I live in Auckland with a dream job - talking to producers, attending foodie events, and creating beautiful video content about food industry players.

If I hadn't decided to plunge into marketing and communications within this primary industry, it's unlikely I'd have snagged an opportunity like this.

But how do we get teachers earning $60,000-$70,000 to tell their students that drop-out Johnny at 25 years old is getting nearly double their salary after not attending university and quite literally working his way up the food chain?

Now the Government is going to dish out money on a plate for students to receive one year of free tertiary education, without any prerequisite in what they choose to study. 

New Zealand needs a huge number of primary industry workers - from those with their hands in the dirt to executive level - to fill the Government's coffers so it can afford to dish out arts and music degrees for free.

And what do we do when those graduates can't get a job in the arts or music industry because there are none and they need to go on the benefit? We pay them again!

This Millennial generation don't care about money - they care about entertainment and lifestyle.

And so it isn't easy to convince high school leavers that twice as many of them studying towards a Bachelor of Arts rather than a degree with a focus on the primary sector is straight-out dumb.

If New Zealand wakes up and realises this, we would be able to produce more food from the same amount of land, and ultimately leave less of a footprint behind.

But to do this, we need the capability.

I ask the current government to seriously consider its prerequisite to 'free' money for tertiary study to focus on where we need the talent - and not just use it as a policy to win votes with the youth.

Sarah Perriam is a producer and host on RadioLIVE’s Rural Exchange.