Home » News » Secrets to farm careers
Secrets to farm careers
From left, Canterbury Farm Capability Society chairman Mark Cressey and Matt Jones (standing) and Trina Moore from NZ Dairy Careers –pastoral care and tailored training a key part of supporting and staff.

Secrets to farm careers

Anne Lee

Pastoral care and tailored, quality training are the top of the list for a Canterbury farm employers group looking to support and retain staff.

The group, which includes more than 20 members, is known as the Canterbury Farm Capability Society (CFCS).

It’s chairman is Mark Cressey, award-winning sharemilker for Rakaia Incorporation’s Tahu a Tao dairy farm near Dorie – winners of the 2016 Ahuwhenua Trophy.

Mark says CFCS was set up so farmer employers, who could prove they had good policies, good procedures and good attitudes to training and supporting staff, could differentiate themselves from others.

“We want to be employers of choice,” he says.

The farmers are independently audited to ensure they meet or in most cases exceed industry standards and legal requirements.

“One of the most important aspects of this is making sure staff, especially young staff or overseas staff are well-supported onfarm.

“It’s a big step for a school leaver or young person coming to work onfarm, taking care of themselves, budgeting, living away from family,” he says.

For some young people there can be a lot going on, particularly if it’s their first job and first move away from home.

While farmer employers have a responsibility and obligation themselves to look out for the wellbeing of all their staff, the group wanted to go a step further and bring in a third party to act as an independent ear, mentor and pastoral carer.

Kintore farms general manager Nick Hoogeveen is vice chairman of CFCS and says having that third party person allows staff to get around any awkwardness of talking about personal issues with their employer.

For some young people there can be a lot going on, particularly if it’s their first job and first move away from home.

They might not feel comfortable sharing some things with the people they also have to work with or for.

CFCS has contracted NZ Dairy Careers, headed by Matt Jones to carry out the audits with employers and to provide the pastoral care service to staff.

NZ Dairy Careers candidate manager Wendy Hewitt – a former Bay of Plenty sharemilker of the year with husband Terry – carries out the pastoral care role, visiting staff members, helping with budgeting, setting personal goals and making sure some the basics are going well right down to eating properly.

Separate to that NZ Dairy Careers also carries out the training for staff, tailoring training plans to individuals to ensure they have the practical and theoretical skills and knowledge for their position.

The contract for training is between the staff member and NZ Dairy Careers directly. The staff member pays fees for their course just as they would at a polytechnic or training institute.

“It’s that way around because when people have a bit of skin in the game they’re more likely to make an effort and really be engaged with it,” Matt says.

He started out as a farm cadet and says the training programme and pastoral care hark back to those days in the way they involve the staff member, employer and training provider.

“We’re not about ticking boxes.

Mark Cressey and Brix Milag worked together last season. Brix is no longer with the Cresseys as he is progessing in the industry and has moved on from assistant herd manager to a herd manager’s role.

“The training plans we have are specifically tailored for each person based on the level of skill they have and where they need to be for their role,” Matt says.

There’s a mix of onfarm learning, classroom-based learning, written work and options for Primary ITO courses but there are also a variety of approaches and tools that can be used so that people’s different learning styles are catered for.

Matt says they’ve just about completed an app that will host trainees’ individual training plans and modules.

“They’ll be able to go on that app and refer back to what they learned to help refresh their memories when they’re out on the job. Say for instance they have to tie off a strainer post or they’re doing something else with fencing.

“It might be something they don’t do very often and although they’ve learnt it and done it in their training they might want to check they’re doing it right six months down the track when they have to do it at work again.

“It’s all there on the app.”

Some people will naturally like to learn by reading and writing but others are experiential learners – gaining skills and proficiency by doing.

Having the opportunity to carry out the skill themselves is important but watching someone else do it on video can also be an important and effective means of teaching experiential learners.

The company’s training and development manager Gemma Bell has a Bachelor of Agricultural Science with honours and professional graduate certificate in education.

She was a lecturer at an agricultural college in England and has worked with members of the CFCS and engaged with other industry experts in developing the training courses for trainees.

Each aspect of the working day – whether it be milking, managing pastures or animal health, for instance – is detailed in the training programme with trainees reviewed quarterly as to how they are going with their learning.

Every six months they also meet with the farmer and training provider to go through a performance review and monitor progress.

“We want to see where they’re at, make sure it’s where they want to be and where the farmer and trainers want them to be and then we look at what they need to work on still,” Matt says.

It won’t just be a matter of completing a module. We want to be able to say they’ve passed it and give an indication of how well they’ve passed it so farmers can see what it is they are excelling in and what they need more help in, he says.

While most of the training is about specific on-the-job skills and learning the theory so they understand why things are done a particular way, some of the early training and pastoral care aspects are more holistic.

Helping them to be confident, making sure they take responsibility even knowing things such as looking someone in the eye when they shake their hand – they’re all things that make up a well rounded, responsible person the farmer can have confidence in, Matt says.

Mark says one thing farmers can get annoyed about when they take on new staff is that they say they’re competent in a particular aspect of the job and have had training in it.

“They can show you they have a qualification to a certain level and can even show you they’ve done a particular course but when it comes down to it they really don’t have the experience they say they have.

“That can be because someone else – even another farmer and previous employer – has ticked that off as done.

“In the end that does no one any good because you get people who can’t do the job expected of them and that’s frustrating for the employer and puts stress on the staff member,” he says.

For that reason achieving a standard in training modules is assessed not just as a pass but shows how well they’ve done.

As part of CFCS members’ audits they must also show how they justify someone is scored as competent or proficient at a task.

Mark says the CFCS and NZ Dairy Careers alliance has undergone modifications since it first began 18 months ago with Matt taking on NZ Dairy Careers late last year.

It had been run in conjunction with Grow Mid-Canterbury, but when it’s funding from the Ashburton District Council was withdrawn last year that organisation folded.

Mark says the original concept of CFCS holding the employment contracts with staff and taking on legal responsibilities of the employer rather than the individual farmer members hadn’t sat well with the farmers and may have opened up CFCS board members to undue risks.

“Our original vision is still very much there and I think what we have now will really get this all working very well.

“The aim was to create an employers’ group with independently accredited standards that supports farmers. At the same time we wanted to link that to a training and pastoral care programme that also supports staff and helps them develop and progress so they stay in the industry and ideally with us as a farmer group.”