Job a blend of father figure, mentor and friend

Allan Roxburgh with Telford students Jake Jones (16), Scott McKenzie (17), Eden McAlister (17),...
Allan Roxburgh with Telford students Jake Jones (16), Scott McKenzie (17), Eden McAlister (17), Willie Donald (17), Connell Baxter (17), Duncan Gardner (18) and Poutama Toto (18). Photo: Stephen Jaquiery

At Lincoln University’s Telford campus, Allan Roxburgh is more than just work experience co-ordinator.

‘‘You sort of become a father figure, a mentor, a friend . . . someone they can talk to,’’ he said.

Mr Roxburgh is responsible for organising work experience for certificate in agriculture students at Telford, who this year numbered 55.

Work experience was a crucial component of the programme, with one-third of it spent working on farms.

While only in the role for the past three years, Mr Roxburgh has a strong family connection with the campus near Balclutha.

He spent his early years on a farm at Ryal Bush in Southland before moving to South Otago at age 10, when his father John got a job teaching at Telford. He remained at the campus until his retirement.

After leaving school, Allan worked on farms and then completed a diploma of agriculture at Lincoln in 1980.

Returning to South Otago, he worked for Bill McNab at Lochindorb — with the intention of staying only a year to build up a team of dogs again — but ended up staying for six.

That was followed by a five-year stint managing a farm at Glenomaru, 12 years in the forestry industry after a friend offered him a job logging, and then 10 years working for Mr McNab’s son Dave.

But farming was eventually curtailed due to the effects of an accident during his logging days when his feet were crushed.

Much later after the accident, bad arthritis set in which resulted in the reconstruction of one foot and fusing of both ankles.

While undergoing rehabilitation, he was asked by his friend, Telford hostel manager Daniel Maze, if he wanted to be a supervisor one night a week.

Thinking it would at least get him ‘‘out of the house’’, Mr Roxburgh found he enjoyed working with students.

He later moved on to his current role, which also included practical stock handling work with sheep and cattle.

Mr Roxburgh candidly admitted he was not a big fan of the job when he first started but he had evolved into the role, and now derived a huge amount of satisfaction from seeing young people grow in skills and confidence.

‘‘If it’s not the best job I’ve ever had, it’s right up there.

‘‘I do love it. I just love working with the kids. They help keep me young,’’ he said.

It was a role he was very comfortable with. He had always had a good rapport with farmers and knew many when he joined Telford.

He had introduced some new farmers to the programme along the way because there was a certain attrition with host farmers’ circumstances changing at times and also some not being suitable, for various reasons.

He was ‘‘pretty particular’’ when it came to farmers, asking potential candidates the reason why they were interested in hosting a student.

The answer he wanted was that they were keen to ‘‘put something back into the industry’’, as against just looking for labour units.

‘‘The whole idea is to get these students out on farms that want to have them there,’’ Mr Roxburgh said.

The farmers wanted to mentor them, grow their confidence and skill base, and help get them to the stage where they were employable by the end of the course.

Mr Roxburgh had about 80 to 100 farmers on his books, spread throughout Otago and Southland and several in South Canterbury. The majority were within an hour’s drive of Telford.

Some students took to work experience ‘‘like a duck to water’’, while others struggled, with some having never previously been away from home before.

The farmers needed to be ‘‘people people’’ and he was always looking for more of the ‘‘right ones’’. Telford’s own sheep and beef and dairy farms were utilised as well.

Key to the programme’s success was matching the right student with the right farmer and that could be challenging.

It was important for Mr Roxburgh to get to know the students as quickly as possible at the beginning of the year.

Early in the year, the students spent a week working in Telford’s shearing shed, in what was possibly the toughest week they had during the year.

‘‘It’s a good place to get to know them really well. You get to know their strengths and weaknesses pretty quickly. You’ve got to know what makes them tick,’’ he said.

The key to students’ success at Telford was their attitude. ‘‘You can teach them all the skills in the world but you can’t teach work ethic and attitude,’’ he said.

Health and Safety had become a big issue but protocols had been put in place to protect students, farmers and Lincoln.

Students were encouraged to be proactive with Health and Safety and there fortunately had been no major incidents.

One of the big pluses of the role was the contact with former students. Most weeks, there was an ex-student calling for a catch-up, he said.

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