Oh, the places you’ll grow: Consider a career in the food and fibre sector

Michelle Glogau, CEO of the Primary Industry Capability Alliance (PICA/GrowingNZ) says there’s no better time than now to think about a career in the food and fibre sector.

“Covid-19 has shown the strength and resilience of our sectors. To meet the demand around the world for quality New Zealand ideas, products, and services, and to help shape the future of food and fibre in New Zealand, we need more skilled people,” says Michelle.

“Whether you’re a school leaver considering your options or looking to transfer your skills to a new career, there is a myriad of opportunities in food and fibre to suit everyone.”

A dedicated space for those curious about the career and training pathways available in the sector was the Fieldays Careers and Education Hub, hosted by GrowingNZ.

Deborah Lynch, Information Manager at GrowingNZ, says it was rewarding to broaden people’s horizons about the vast range of exciting careers available.

She says that while there are fantastic career opportunities on-farm, there are many careers in towns and cities too, with two-thirds of the sector’s workforce being employed in processing and commercialisation.

You don’t need to come from a rural background either. While it can be helpful to have some form of connection with the rural sector, it’s just as important to be passionate and have the right attitude.

Deborah notes that a highlight for her at Fieldays was chatting to school leavers who were unsure what their next steps would be after school, and them walking away feeling more confident about their potential career pathways.

“I’d essentially play 20 questions with them, digging deeper into their values and what they’re really passionate about.

“I’d show them a career path in the sector that suits them and a case study of someone in a real job so they could go, “hey, here’s someone who loves what I love.” Then I’d arm them with information about where to go next to explore their options.

“Also, the beauty of being at Fieldays was that we could connect them to the relevant organisations and training providers who were also exhibiting. They could give them more specific information.”

For those who don’t know what they want to be when they grow up, Deborah’s advice is reassuring:

“Keep an open mind, follow your passions, learn some skills and get some experience under your belt. Talk to people who are in the roles that you’re keen on – they’re a great source of information about what the job is really like. You might change your mind a few times along the way – and that’s totally fine!”

While school leavers and career changers were key audiences of the Hub, GrowingNZ went one step further, engaging with primary school students to broaden their career aspirations and future proof the sector simultaneously.

This involved a mystery panel event which was facilitated by Inspiring the Future, a programme by the Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) that is run in schools across the country. Students played ‘guess who’ to figure out the careers of four mystery role models in a diverse range of roles in the food and fibre sector.

Inspiring the Future is a programme stemming from the findings of New Zealand research, Drawing the Future, where school students were asked to draw what they wanted to be when they were older. From a pool of 7,700 drawings received by the TEC, results showed that more than 50 percent of the drawings showed children aspiring to just nine jobs, with only one of these top jobs being a farmer.

Michelle from PICA/GrowingNZ notes that introducing food and fibre sector roles to children in a fun and interactive environment is a progressive way we can address the country’s critical workforce shortage.

“The conversations we’ve had with children, teachers, and parents at Fieldays has shown that there is a real appetite for this. We just need more businesses on board to help us sow the seed and widen children’s career aspirations and strengthen the resilience of our sector.”

Inspiring the Future are recruiting role models to share their career story and inspire our young people’s future prospects. If you can spare a few hours of your time, you can sign up at inspiringthefuture.org.nz.

Drawing the Future food and fibre sector-related findings:
• Less than 0.1% of children drew themselves in a specific horticulture job
• Less than 0.1% of children aspired to work in the forestry industry
• Only 1.6% of children from urban schools aspired to be farmers, compared to 7.3% from rural schools

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