Gen Z, it’s time to make your mark on New Zealand’s food and fibre sector

Food and fibre sector leaders are counting on Generation Z (loosely defined as those born between 1995 and 2010) to take on the future of New Zealand’s food and fibre sector and meet the challenges it faces.

The key to attracting Generation Z (Gen Z) to the sector will be making them aware of the scope of opportunities across the sector, says Madison Pannett, the Kellogg Rural Leadership scholar behind the report, Generation Z and the environment – how can we use their passion to attract them into food and fibre sector careers?

“I have found my journey into the sector so personally rewarding, so I was keen to explore how to inspire young people to join,” says Madison, who now works for the Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) as a Senior Adviser in the Animal Welfare Liaison team.

“From my research, I found that Gen Z mainly associates food and fibre sector careers with roles on-farm and not with the wider opportunities that are available,” Madison notes. She says that sector leaders need to tell the story of the scope of rewarding and diverse roles available for Gen Z to contribute and work in line with their values.

A university well-known for championing food and fibre sector careers is Massey University, which is ranked number one in New Zealand, and second in the Southern Hemisphere, for its agricultural programme of study (based on the QS World University Ranking system). This has been the catalyst for the Manawatu becoming a hub of activity for all things food and fibre: research, innovation, the highest concentration of scientists and researchers, and world class research facilities.

Head of the School of Agriculture and Environment at Massey, Paul Kenyon, says that Massey has a wide range of study options that cover the spectrum from pre to post the farm gate, encompassing animal health and welfare, and the environment – key interest areas for Gen Z.

“What sets us apart is the fact that we have many disciplines together on one site that individually contribute to our agricultural ranking.

“Obviously, there is our agricultural programme of study, but we also have horticulture, animal science, agribusiness, environmental science, earth science, ecology, food science, and veterinary science, with all groups working together collaboratively.”

Paul notes Massey ranks particularly high in employer reputation, as in what employers think of their graduates. He says that the job prospects are so good for agricultural tertiary students, that they need more students to meet industry demand. 

“Many of our students have roles confirmed halfway through their last year and the majority have roles confirmed before the end of their last year,” says Paul.

Examples of notable roles that Massey University alumni have taken on in their careers include Sam McIvor who is Chief Executive of Beef + Lamb NZ and Andrew Watters Chief Executive of MyFarm Ltd.

Ben Crane, who was awarded Massey’s 2021 Agriculture Student of the Year, can advocate for Massey’s agricultural program. Originally from urban Taranaki, Ben had zero experience in agriculture, and his first glimpse into the field stemmed from being part of his school’s trial of the NCEA Agribusiness courses.

Ben says that the driving force for his decision to attend Massey University was the range of industry scholarships available and the job prospects upon graduation. This meant a minimal student loan, and a maximum return on investment for Ben, which has indeed paid off for him as a graduate. Here is his sound advice for school leavers considering their options:

“My number one piece of advice for school leavers, or anyone wanting to do a degree, who are unsure exactly what to do, is to choose something that is so broad you can work in any sector or business,” says Ben.

“As school leaver, or anyone in fact, you are highly likely to be a different person when you finish your degree. Agribusiness allows you to complete a wide range of papers giving you the ability to pick up an understanding on business and science topics.” 

Ben was a part of DairyNZ’s scholarship programme during his degree, which led to the opportunity to be the student representative for the NZ Institute of Primary Industry Management. Recently, he has been awarded the graduate placement for H&T Agronomics where he will begin his journey to becoming a qualified forage and crop advisor, following his strong passion for the seeds industry.

Another notable Massey University alum is Hannah Wood, a food technologist who is now paving the way for New Zealand’s gelato scene with her award-winning business Little ‘Lato. Hannah, who features on the This Working Life series on Fieldays TV, says she was unsure about what she wanted to do after school, but a representative from Massey University inspired her to study food technology there.

“I think food technology was a great platform for learning about different areas [of the sector], and everything you do is going to give you breadth of experience that will help you,” says Hannah on Fieldays TV.

“The ultimate goal would be to bring authentic gelato to New Zealand and get people on the bandwagon!”

To check out how other young people are making their way in the food and fibre sector, head to the This Working Life channel on Fieldays TV at fieldaysonline.co.nz and watch on demand. Head to massey.ac.nz to explore their programmes of study.

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