Maintaining workforce high priority

Agricultural contractor Richard Woodhead has been elected as the new zone 4 councillor for the Rural Contractors New Zealand board. Photo: Simon Henderson
Agricultural contractor Richard Woodhead has been elected as the new zone 4 councillor for the Rural Contractors New Zealand board. Photo: Simon Henderson
Wanaka agricultural contractor Richard Woodhead believes more needs to be done to encourage school leavers into the industry as the existing workforce ages.

He is also concerned about the industry's ability to find experienced staff, especially during peak season, and would like to see overseas tourist drivers be made more aware of the skills required to share the same road as large agricultural machinery.

Mr Woodhead has been elected to the Rural Contractors New Zealand (RCNZ) board and joins fellow contractor David Kean, of Centre Bush, as a zone 4 councillor.

He replaces Brian Hughes, of Waimatua, who has stepped down.

Mr Woodhead owns Wanaka Agricultural Contracting Ltd, which offers cultivation, harvesting, direct drilling, silage, baleage and hay-making services in Upper Clutha.

''I have been in business for 29 years in Wanaka, but I have been in the industry for 36 years now,'' Mr Woodhead said.

He arrived in Wanaka in 1988 and set up the business in 1989.

''I have also been a member of the RCNZ for 15 years and spent five years on the zone 4 committee.''

Mr Woodhead said he was concerned about the need to employ more experienced and skilled staff from overseas for the busy season.

''I usually employ about four people from Ireland and we have a Danish man at the moment.''

He wanted more effort given to encouraging school leavers to consider contracting as an attractive and interesting career choice.

''We have an ageing workforce and there are few young people coming in at the other end.

''We try to take on one young guy a year ex-school, but there is not much interest.

''They have got to come to you with an interest in machinery.''

Another issue for young workers was the high cost of accommodation in Wanaka.

''Wanaka is not the easiest place to live in if they are starting out in job, and trying to find a house under $500 a week is almost impossible.

''The pressure of housing around here is phenomenal.''

He provides accommodation and meals for his overseas staff.

Mr Woodhead said as industry standards, particularly in workplace health and safety requirements, became higher and more professional, there needed to be more training for young operators just starting out.

''We can't expect them to learn on the job the way we did. The gear is too technical and expensive and we have a legal and moral responsibility for our employees.''

Another issue was the increasing number of tourists driving on the region's roads, which was causing his drivers some heart-stopping moments.

''The number of vehicles on the road is unbelievable.

''A lot are not used to driving on single-lane roads, and when they come behind machinery doing 40km, a lot don't know how to pass, or pass when they shouldn't.

''I have just noticed this season that numbers have really doubled.

''We have had some close calls around the end of January and during Chinese New Year, which were not pleasant.''

-By Yvonne O'Hara

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