A call to stabilise wool school

New Zealand Wool Classers Association board member Bill Dowle and chairwoman Tracy Paterson have...
New Zealand Wool Classers Association board member Bill Dowle and chairwoman Tracy Paterson have concerns about the future of a tertiary qualification teaching students the skills to work in the wool industry. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
Shawn McAvinue speaks to industry leaders at New Zealand Wool Classers Association professional development day in Mosgiel about their fears over a course closing, removing a way to train the next generation of wool classers.

A tertiary qualification to train the next generation of wool classers must remain open despite a pending retirement of a long-standing tutor, New Zealand Wool Classers Association chairwoman Tracy Paterson says.

Mrs Paterson, who farms Matakanui Station near Omakau, with husband Andrew, became chairwoman at an association industry professional development day in Mosgiel last week.

Mrs Paterson, who had been on the board for about five years, was the first woman to lead the association.

An aim during her tenure was to ensure the New Zealand Certificate in Wool Technology and Classing continued to be available for students.

"That is a big focus for us. Going forward we need to know we have the next generation of classers trained appropriately and coming through the system. That is something our whole board feels, very, very strongly about," she said.

The two-year part-time qualification was exclusively available at the Southern Institute of Technology this year.

NZWCA board member and retired wool classer Bill Dowle, of Amberley, said several educational institutions had tried to teach wool qualifications.

"We have to stop passing this baton around and get some stability long-term."

He praised SIT senior tutor Laurie Boniface, who had taught thousands of students, including himself and Mrs Paterson.

"Where would be without people like Laurie putting in the time and effort and nurturing these students."

Mr Boniface, 77, spoke about his impending retirement on June 28, ending a 60-year career in the wool industry, including 40 years as a wool tutor.

A "townie", born and raised in Palmerston North, Mr Boniface got a job as a store hand for wool merchant Beder Brothers in 1964, aged 17.

He took two years off to complete a diploma in wool and wool classing at Massey University.

After graduating, he was offered a job as a wool classer at Williams & Kettle in Napier.

Beder Bros matched the offer and he stayed in Palmerston North and went on to become a wool buyer for the Manawatū and Rangitīkei districts.

Southern Institute of Technology senior tutor Laurie Boniface, of Palmerston North, is retiring,...
Southern Institute of Technology senior tutor Laurie Boniface, of Palmerston North, is retiring, ending a more than 60-year career in the wool industry, an achievement which was recognised at the New Zealand Wool Classers Association’s annual meeting in Mosgiel last week. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
The position came with a company car, a 1972 Datsun 180B, a landline for his home and an expense account.

"I thought I was made," he recalled.

Beder Bros was sold to Feltex in 1975, which he continued to work for as a private wool merchant.

Feltex shifted its focus and his job became surplus to requirements and he began working as a wool buyer at H J Dewe Ltd in Feilding in 1979.

He wanted a change so he took a job as a wool tutor at Massey University, launching a 40-year career teaching students about wool.

"I found that teaching was my passion in life," he said.

That course finished at Massey in the 1990s due to a lack of numbers.

He continued to teach about wool, but his employer had changed many times including WoolPro, Meat & Wool Innovation, Tectra, Lincoln University, Taratahi, Te Pūkenga and the SIT since 2019.

Working in the wool industry had been "thoroughly enjoyable" and it was "heartwarming" to see his past students progressing in the industry across New Zealand.

"I have had a fantastic career and I have no regrets in retirement," he said.

Devold Wool Direct general manager Craig Smith, of Wānaka, thanked Mr Boniface for teaching him about wool technology at Massey University nearly 35 years ago.

"What Laurie taught me was there is no end to the wool industry and the knowledge I learned from him put me where I am today and I am really proud to call him a mate."

SIT operations lead Daryl Haggerty said the programme was not being terminated.

"The recent vacancies resulting from the resignation and retirement of the two current wool technology tutors have prompted Telford to advertise for replacements.

"Despite these staffing changes, Telford and SIT remain committed to upholding the integrity and significance of the Wool Programme within the industry. "The recruitment process for qualified individuals to fill the vacant positions is under way, and we are dedicated to ensuring continuity in delivering this programme."