Office to orchard, why these Kiwis are making the move to primary sector

Hamish Mckerchar is enjoying the fresh air he gets working on a farm. Photo credit: Supplied

New Zealanders are switching the office for the orchard and the cockpit for cows in a bid to stay working following the economic turmoil caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) has reported a 60 percent increase in people receiving jobseeker benefits compared to this time last year in its quarterly labour market report. 

The report presents the state of the labour market in the March 2020 quarter in which the number of unemployed people rose by 5000 to 116,000. The current unemployment rate is 4.2 percent and economists are predicting a rise to somewhere between 5 to 6 percent. 

Whilst a majority of sectors are facing job insecurity after the wage subsidy ending, the primary industries are in desperate need of workers, especially the fruit picking industry. 

Central Otago alone is in need of 5000 workers at the peak of summer to harvest fruit, this is due to a lack of overseas workers who have been unable to enter the country because of COVID-19 border closures.   

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) is pushing their 'Opportunity Grows Here' campaign in the hopes of helping 10,000 Kiwis into jobs in the primary sector.  

MPI says the food sector provided an immediate lifeline for tourism workers during the first lockdown and there are still gaps to be filled by other Kiwis who have lost jobs. 

Geoff Rawlings is now picking and pruning kiwifruit for a living. Photo credit: Supplied

Geoff Rawlings' life was flipped upside down when COVID-19 hit, his office job in tourism was no longer viable and he was forced to take a new direction. Rawlings now picks and prunes kiwifruit in Matapihi in the Bay of Plenty and says he hasn't looked back. 

"An office job can be quite taxing, whereas this isn't mentally taxing. I walk away at the end of the day having achieved something."

Rawlings has also seen his health improve with the uptake in physical activity after leaving the office chair behind and the addition of five kiwifruit to his diet.

Rawlings is now seeing a future in kiwifruit: "I am enjoying this so much, I don't want to go back to tourism, I want to get into the business side of things," he says. 

Hamish Mckerchar used to fly tourists over Fiordland and Milford Sound. Photo credit: Supplied

Hamish Mckerchar has been working in tourism as a pilot for the past 10 years, flying tourists over the magical scenes of Milford Sound and Fiordland.

When COVID-19 hit New Zealand, Mckerchar's income dried up overnight. He took off and turned to his family's farm in Cave, South Canterbury where he became a farm hand with Hereford cattle.  

Mckerchar admits he made the transition easily as he had a background in farming but is encouraging others to give it ago.

"There's gonna be a lot of jobs going and anyone can come and get into it. My advice would be, don't rule it out, farmers are good at sharing information and helping people learn."

Mckerchar is enjoying the fresh air and "good days work" so much he wants to stay in farming even when international tourists return to New Zealand.

"I may keep my hand in flying, and do it part time when conditions allow, but I love it out here on the farm," he says. 

Jaime Rohan went from law student to apprentice at Fonterra. Photo credit: Supplied

Jaimie Rohan spent six years studying law in Dunedin and didn't once go for a job within the profession before turning to the primary sector. 

In need of quick cash after finishing his degree, he began work at a wood manufacturing plant and not long after dived into dairy by accepting an apprenticeship at Fonterra. 

Rohan is enjoying the variety of the role at Fonterra: "It's pretty amazing how much goes into producing these products like milk powder and cheese. I've only been in the role since april and I'm already learning so much."

He's glad he made the change from law to dairy: "I feel like I have more of a life now than I would have if I went into law, I have balance." 

 Just like Mckerchar, Rohan is also encouraging others to get into the primary sector: "The opportunities are there if you want them, there's so much variety."

Jobs in the primary industries and information about training and career changes can be found here. 

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