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Fast track to management
Casey Meiklejohn – the dairy academy course has fast tracked her dairy career.

Fast track to management

Sheryl Brown

Employers are lining up to hire graduates of the Central North Island Dairy Academy, making it an appealing option for students wanting to advance to management roles in the dairy industry.

The academy, a joint venture between Shanghai Pengxin and Landcorp and run by Taratahi, is a mid-level development programme designed for people who have goals to become a farm manager within five years.

A growing number of potential employers are seeking graduates from the second intake this year, programme manager Dave Horner says.

There is a lot of interest for this year’s intake as well as the students from last year if they want to move on to other jobs.

The students last year were excellent, he says. They not only studied together, they lived together and supported each other through the course.

“A lot of people have told me the course is exactly what the industry needs, but these students are what the industry needs.”

Being able to tutor the students one-on-one five days a week made a big difference, he says. Another bonus was being able to take them out onfarm to the Landcorp or Shanghai Pengxin operations to see any practical demonstrations of the theory they were learning.

The students also worked on the farms in the weekend to gain more experience.

They were in the classroom Monday to Thursday and then on Friday did a lot of field trips to other farms, factories, business and rural merchants.

It gave the students an understanding of the support in the industry and a range of the businesses involved in farming, he says.

They also worked with lawyers, accountants and other professionals to learn about the legality and regulations of the industry, such as rising issues around health and safety and animal welfare.

They had an 80% graduation pass rate last year, but Dave is hoping the two students will do a successful re-sit.

All students passed the first semester and gained their AB certificate, milk quality and effluent qualifications.

They all had to complete farm reports and budgets for a contract milker, sharemilker and a farm owner, based on a dairy farm’s actual figures.

All of last year’s graduates found jobs at lower management level, including herd managers, pasture managers and assistant managers. One student will step up into a manager’s role later this year when the current manager leaves.

“They’ve all done well.”

It is not a prerequisite for students to be employed by the sponsors. One student is working for Landcorp, one is working for Shanghai Pengxin and the rest have gone to other operations across the country.

This year they’ve had 20 students apply for the 10 positions, so the course is more on the radar in the industry already. They were still recruiting students in January last year, Dave says.

The 32-week fully-funded programme is at no cost to the 10 students accepted. They are housed on nearby Landcorp or Shanghai Pengxin farms, where they are encouraged to gain casual employment during study holidays.

One student is working for Landcorp, one is working for Shanghai Pengxin and the rest have gone to other operations across the country.

The programme combines theory, practical training and onfarm experience as part of completing the Diploma in Agriculture. The Dairy Academy programme has been designed in consultation with industry stakeholders to ensure graduates not only achieve the required outcomes of the Massey University Diploma in Agriculture programme but also develop leadership and analytical skills above and beyond the graduate skill base.

Students must pass four papers in the first semester to continue with the remaining four papers in semester two and one during the summer school period.

In addition to the Massey University Diploma in Agriculture units, the programme also includes other relevant quality programmes, including rural leadership, dairy effluent, artificial insemination, Growsafe and milk quality.

A scholarship of $10,000 is awarded annually by Shanghai Pengxin each year.


On the path to contract milking

Herd manager Casey Meiklejohn says the Central North Island Dairy Academy course has helped her jumpstart her career by several years.

It would have taken years to be able to gain that knowledge working fulltime onfarm and trying to do courses part-time, she says.

“I definitely feel I’ve fast-tracked my career.”

The course has given her the skills and knowledge to understanding farming at all levels, from management decisions through to financial budgeting and the legality involved in farming.

“Having that knowledge, even in my role now, it helps me see why things are done.”

That background will hopefully help her into a management or contract milker position within the next couple of years, she says.

The 22-year-old was born and raised on a lifestyle block on the Bombay Hills and always had a love for animals. After secondary school she studied a diploma in homeopathy and started doing some relief milking on the side.

She loved it straight away and managed to secure a fulltime job for two years at Taupiri in the Waikato. The 270-cow job was working alongside the sharemilker. Casey did several Primary ITO courses during that time and entered the Waikato Dairy Industry Awards last year.

She came third in the dairy trainee competition as well as picking up the farming knowledge award.

She knew she needed more knowledge and experience and when she saw the dairy academy advertised she thought it was too good to be true.

“It was the best thing to do. I have no regrets. I would recommend anyone interesting in dairy farming to do it.”

It was a great experience being able to study the large-scale Landcorp and Shanghai Pengxin operations, she says.

“The fact that the classroom was in the middle of the farm was good.”

Stepping up to her first management role this year was a bit daunting at first as she started during the busy period of mating.

“It was a bit hairy. I didn’t know the farm yet.”

However, she is now comfortable running the farm and other staff when her sharemilker is away.

Looking to the future she wants to gain more experience working on farms and get her practical skills caught up with her theory.