Pressure on harvesters to find workers could threaten productivity

May 4, 2018

Pressure on harvesters to find workers could threaten productivity

Orchards and vineyards are having produce left unpicked as there are not enough workers to help with the harvest. Photo: Jamie Ensor

As New Zealand’s horticulture sector struggles with skill shortages, research has highlighted pressure to employ jobseekers could hurt productivity.

With labour shortages extended in the Hawkes Bay and Tasman horticulture sector, and Northland currently struggling with a lack of kumara harvesters, pressure is growing to find individuals willing to take on the roles.

Annie Aranui, Ministry of Social Development East Coast Regional Commissioner, said the Ministry was currently consulting with Work and Income to identify potential workers for the roles and train them quickly.

“We have ‘skills for industry’ partnerships with the sector and help deliver pre-employment training, work brokerage and upskilling opportunities for jobseekers,” says Ms Aranui, with the Ministry doing “as much as we can to ensure suitable jobseekers are work ready.”

However, while Mike Chapman, Horticulture New Zealand chief executive, said the sector employed a wide mix of people across a varying array of pathways, “not all unemployed people are suitable to work in horticulture.”

It is a sentiment echoed by research released by recruitment agency Robert Half suggesting New Zealand companies need to consider if jobseekers matched their workplace’s ‘cultural fit’.

Megan Alexander, Robert Half New Zealand’s general manager said a workplace’s cultural fit was the values that motivated employees and guided how the business operated.

The research revealed 78 per cent of New Zealand employers had hired workers who did work well in business, with 39 per cent having to let the employees go.

Assessing the employee’s skills values and ability to work in a team was important as “successfully hiring any position requires more than just finding someone who can do the job,” says Ms Alexander.

With the recent Situation and Outlook report for Primary Industries noting that low-unemployment will be a constant challenge for the horticulture industry, it was important to employ workers who would stay in roles long-term.

Ms Alexander said employers shouldn’t let the pressure to employ someone get in the way of evaluating whether workers would make a positive impact on the business or hurt the industry’s productivity.

“A lack of cultural fit is one of the primary reasons why employees leave an organisation,” says Ms Alexander.

But Ms Aranui said while the Ministry attempts to secure “long-term suitable employment for our clients, we also recognise the demand for short-term labour.”

Mr Chapman said the Government’s new seasonal job site ‘Work the Seasons’ would help with the immediate demand for harvesters and pickers, while also allowing jobseekers to see the culture of businesses and long-term opportunities available.

Since the labour shortages were declared in the Hawkes Bay due to low regional unemployment and larger than normal harvests, over 210 people have been placed into work.

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