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Silver Fern Farms needs between 500 and 600 workers throughout the country, of which at least half are needed at its five South Island plants.
SFF general manager people Matt Ballard said the meat industry had always competed with other seasonal industries such as horticulture and forestry, but now was also competing with the Government’s shovel-ready infrastructure projects.
Closed borders were also putting a strain on the available workforce, he said.
SFF’s season was starting and would ramp up to peak production in January.
Finding staff was ‘‘pretty tough’’ and retaining them ‘‘even tougher’’, Mr Ballard said.
‘‘We have to make sure that once we get them into the sector, they see the path forward.’’
Last month, the company announced it had raised its minimum hourly rate for existing and new employees to $24 an hour, an increase of 10%, to help with recruitment and retention.
The key for the sector now was to provide opportunities for people to keep coming back each season, Mr Ballard said.
‘‘The more we can provide continuity of opportunity, the better off we will be in the long run.’’
The company had taken a holistic approach this year to try to develop and retain its staff, by ‘‘adding value to the workplace’’, he said.
It was providing more training for career progression, on-site financial advice for staff, meat sales and scholarships for staff.
‘‘We are trying to recreate the image of the industry as one that really looks after people and their lives.
‘‘If we support people well, they will keep coming back and we will have to recruit less people,’’ Mr Ballard said.
SFF was also trying to attract students on their summer breaks to join its workforce.
The students’ eight- to 12-week break coincided with SFF’s peak season, which worked well as a support for its core workforce through that time, Mr Ballard said.
The company was trying to recruit students who otherwise might have gone on an OE but were forced to stay home.
Alliance Group’s Lorneville plant, the group’s largest, will begin processing new season lambs in the next few weeks.
Alliance general manager people and safety Chris Selbie said the group was busy recruiting staff for its plants across the country for peak season, when it employed 2000 people.
Its preference was always to employ New Zealanders first, but unemployment was low, especially in rural areas where its plants were located.