Why finding skilled farm workers is 'bloody hard'

Despite a push to get more New Zealanders into the dairy industry, many farm jobs are still going begging.

Chris Lewis from Federated Farmers says a campaign to lure more people into the business in the wake of COVID-19 largely fell short of its goal due to the fact that city people were not willing to move to the country.

With unemployment expected to skyrocket amid the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, a Government-backed initiative by Dairy NZ offered the chance for newly unemployed people to retrain and get into the dairy industry, which had around 1000 jobs needing to be filed earlier this year. 

However, more than six months on, the industry still has around 800 vacancies waiting to be filled.

"The location of the jobs, especially in rural areas, is the problem - and it always has been," Lewis told Magic Talk's Rural Exchange over the weekend.

He said "luckily" the sky-high unemployment projections never came to fruition, but the flip-side of that was fewer people were tempted to try and enter the dairy industry.

Last month, Dairy NZ chief executive Tim Mackle told RNZ the Government's wage subsidy went a long way to taking the pressure of those looking for new work, which likely led to fewer people entering the industry.

"GoDairy was designed during the first COVID-19 lockdown in April when unemployment was expected to reach upwards of 9 percent, if not higher, by late 2020," he said.

"In practice, while there have been job losses, unemployment has not yet reached those expected highs due to the Government's wage subsidy and other policies."

Lewis said the dairy industry wasn't the only sector battling labour shortages.

"It's not just a dairy issue, it's a whole-of-New-Zealand issue - finding skilled people is bloody hard," he said.

 "All the good hardworking Kiwis, they're already working on farms.

"People who grow up on farms, we learn a lot of skills and we're highly sought after, so when you've got those skills you can be employed anywhere, can't you? That's the problem for farming - the people we want, they're in huge demand."