Rural contractors attending two expos last week to promote their sector have been blown away by the turnout and begun recruiting locally to fill vacancies.

However, Rural Contractors NZ says it will still need to bring in some skilled machinery operators from overseas for the spring/summers season as few new recruits will have developed sufficient skills to drive the more complex agricultural machines.

RCNZ president David Kean who is Winton-based, says the Queenstown and Te Anau expos saw more than 160 people through the doors.

One Wanaka contractor picked up five potential staff and has already interviewed one, who had lost his tourism job as a jet boat skipper. A Central Otago contractor was interviewing a couple of candidates.

David Kean says he was impressed with the calibre of those attending the expos.

“We had New Zealanders and the United Nations. There was a 75 year old man and two women in their fifties. We’ve never seen such interest in contracting.”

He says many had the aptitude to drive contracting machinery.

“We had one woman whose job had been to drive a bus to Milford Sound. If you can do that run, you can drive a tractor.”

However, David Kean says that’s a different skill than operating a complex piece of machinery such as one producing sileage.

“The cabs are like being on a space ship. Not even I would not want to drive them.”

Such machinery was essential to farming production as contractors often serviced dozens if not hundreds of farms.

“Balers and forage harvesters are two of the most critical machines for New Zealand at the moment. That’s especially so when we’ve still got the after effects of a severe drought impacting feed supply. Hawkes Bay alone needs 300,000 bales of feed and every available blade of grass needs to be expertly harvested.”

He said Irish and UK operators came to New Zealand in their off-season and were often teaching local contractors about how to operate the latest models of equipment.

“While we are encouraged that we can finally bring more Kiwis and NZ residents into the fold, they’ve got to spend time lifting their skills before they could get into the cab of some of the machines contractors operate.’’

David Kean says Rural Contractors NZ is working with Federated Farmers in putting a case to Government to consider foreign machinery operators to be classed as having essential skills and be allowed to come here in spring.

“Contractors are happy to work with the Government and pay for the necessary quarantine arrangements.

Rural Contractors NZ is working with Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) *on a package of initiatives which started with last week’s expos and this week saw the first of 6 six-week training courses, teaching 20 people at a time the basic skills and requirements for a contracting or farming job.

David Kean says RCNZ would also be keen to support other such training in other centres.

“Christchurch is facing a big downturn in construction. Some of the skills used by those operating construction machinery line up with what we need. We would also like to see similar courses to those at Telford offered in one or more North Island locations. If someone has the aptitude and commitment, rural contractors have the work.”

 Contact: Brendon Burns, RCNZ communications 0274 305501

*SIT course contact Debbie Rankin, Programme Manager, Telford. 027 433 6038  [email protected]