Mexican students for Central

Offering vocational training to Mexican horticultural students could help address seasonal labour shortages on Central Otago orchards and vineyards.

That is, if a deal between Mexican officials and Otago Polytechnic can be struck.

New Zealand embassy agriculture counsellor Terry Meikle led a delegation from the Mexican state of Jalisco into the region last week.

Speaking from Mexico City this week, Mr Meikle said the state’s Secretary of Innovation, Science and Technology Alfonso Pompa Padilla, Secretary of Agriculture Alberto Esquer Gutierrez, and others visited Otago Polytechnic’s Central Campus in Cromwell and fruit and wine growers where technological innovations and the shortage of seasonal workers generated talk.

"With 2.2% unemployment in Central Otago that’s a dangerously low number."

Fostering a relationship with the polytechnic was potentially a "win-win" situation, he said.

"From the Mexican side, the Jalisco interest is strong and provides potential multiple wins by providing young Mexicans the opportunity to learn basic English, work in a New Zealand environment and take back those skills to Mexico."

In Central Otago it could address skilled labour shortages.

"From a bilateral Mexico-New Zealand relationship perspective, this aligns to our agricultural co-operation efforts with Mexico."

There was scope to work with Mexico and other Latin American countries using the Otago Polytechnic vocational training model already offered to Chilean students in Cromwell, he said.

Central Campus principal lecturer Alex Huffadine said the polytechnic was connected to Semillero Rural, the Chilean Ministry of Agriculture’s scholarship scheme.

The Mexican delegation was so impressed by the Cromwell programme they would "send students tomorrow if they could", he said.

Part of the polytechnic’s programme included guaranteed paid work placement in cherry or wine production.

The level of "pastoral care" provided to the students and the fact they were from rural backgrounds set them apart from backpackers and meant orchards and vineyards were happy to take them to fill labour gaps, Mr Huffadine said.

He regularly went to Latin and South America to promote the Cromwell programme, he said.

- Jared Morgan

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