When someone learns the skills to drive a big, expensive piece of farm machinery, a whole world of opportunity opens up.

As but one example, my son is off to Western Australia again shortly, as our workload here in central Southland eases off with the arrival of autumn. Nicol will work for around eight weeks sowing wheat and barley in the bottom corner of that vast state.

Last year he came back from a couple of months stint there with enough cash in the bank to buy a good ute.

The truth is that for him and a whole range of other New Zealanders, young or mature, the world is their contracting oyster.

Everyone knows about the demand there is for New Zealand shearers around the world. Now the same applies to operating rural contracting machinery.

You can work your way around the world, season by season. Australia, Britain, Europe, Canada and the United States are just some of the places where there is work available for skilled operators.

I know of people who’re paying off lump sums off their mortgage from what they earn overseas. And they’ve seen the world as well.

It may not be the life for everyone. You work up to 12 hours a day and often live on a rural property.

But the world-wide shortage is seeing competition for the resource. This year Nicol is having his flights over paid and food provided. Given there’s not much time to spend anything while they are working, that simply means more money in the bank when the work is finished.

That’s important if a young person wants to start stashing some capital towards setting themselves up as a rural contractor. When you can spend six figure sums on machinery without the blink of an eye, a reasonable bank balance is going to be required. We are an industry dominated by operators in mid to late life. Young people with skills and capital are essential to continuance in our sector.

Rural contractors like myself also need these skilled people to operate our businesses. With 9 units doing spraying work here in central Southland in the spring and summer months, that requires several good operators.

Every year, Rural Contractors NZ puts in Approval in Principle requests to Immigration NZ to import skilled operators under AIPs. Some 325 are sought for the coming spring/summer season.

They will simply be doing the same thing as machinery operators do in going to Australia or elsewhere in New Zealand’s off-seasons.

I employ a number of New Zealanders and would dearly like to employ more. They do need high levels of self-motivation and self-management, along with the coordination and focus required to drive a big piece of machinery through some long days.

We do need a more holistic approach to managing such workers. For example, early last summer it got very dry in Southland and a lot of contractors ran out of work for staff, including imports.

There needs to be more communication and flexibility to allow these young fellas to be able to move on if work dries up. The truth is they can go anywhere in the world with their skills.
By David Kean, Vice President, Rural Contractors NZ.