A strong initial group of rural contractors and educators has been brought together to drive the establishment of a National Training Council for the rural contracting sector.

Andrew Olsen, CEO of Rural Contracting NZ will act as chair of the foundation group along with:

  • Richard Houston, who established the HanzonJobs app
  • Gareth Evans, from Rural Training Solutions, a Waikato-based training company which specialises in teaching micro-credentials for skills such tractor driving
  • John Hughes, a former RCNZ President who helped develop rural skills training at SIT’s Telford campus
  • Bob Stewart, Portfolio Manager – Trades, Conservation & Primary Industries at UCOL’s farm training base in the Wairarapa
  • RCNZ President Helen Slattery, who runs a Waikato based rural contractor company with her husband Roger

Andrew Olsen says rural contractors were struggling to get enough trained people before Covid struck and it’s impacts gradually whittled away most of the capacity to fill the gaps with short-term skills hires from overseas.

“Recognising this, RCNZ stepped up big time in 2020 to increase training by working with the Telford and Taratahi agricultural campuses. There was also an upswing in some of the private sector training but amid a pandemic and increasing labour shortages, we were all pushing it uphill.”

Andrew says his conversations with industry and trainers as well as Government officials, notably MPI, began to see some common threads emerge.

“Rural contractors are actually natural trainers because every machine and task is different. So, our Board – with MPI’s support – helped Richard Houston expand his HanzonJobs training initiative, which sees trainees record all their work activities on an app.”

He says around 100 people are now working for rural contractors using the HanzonJobs app, giving them and their employers the benefit of a record of work and experience.

“That’s a great tool but it’s only part of the journey. Trainees need something which formally recognises their developing skills – and plugs into a qualification.”

February’s board meeting of Rural Contractors NZ approved Andrew’s proposal to establish a National Training Council for the sector.

Andrew Olsen says the strength of the foundation Council is a strong signal of what is needed.

“We will get things started and part of that is seeking a group of experienced, pragmatic and practical contractors large and small who can bring the voice of our industry and our trainees to the Council.”

The foundation Council has established working objectives to:

  • Review and improve current rural contractor training, maintaining on job and work-based evidence assessment.
  • Work with MPI, Primary ITO, Connexis, NZQA, training providers and the Tertiary Education Commission to improve pathways from school to a meaningful career.
  • Reduce over time the reliance on overseas labour by growing a broader multi-skilled and resilient NZ-based contractor workforce.
  • Support an apprenticeship in the Primary Industry.

Andrew Olsen says the charter of the Council will be presented in advance of its first meeting in late February/early March.