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Horticulture industry front foots the future of training.

Horticulture industry front foots the future of training.

New Zealand Apples and Pears Inc. is working closely with digital learning experts to strengthen links between training and industry need.

In its latest work with the vocational education sector to shape the future of training and accreditation, New Zealand Apples and Pears Inc. (NZAPI) has collaborated with eLearning specialists eCampus NZ to bring its annual certification process online.

NZAPI represents and promotes the country’s apple, pear and nashi industry in domestic and export markets. To meet the Ministry for Primary Industries’ regulations for fruit exports, employers need to regularly accredit seasonal and permanent workers in areas such as biosecurity, international and national phytosanitary systems for plants and plant products, pest identification, and pest monitoring and control.

Thanks to a collaboration between NZAPI and eCampus NZ, workers across the country can now complete their annual accreditation assessments online, streamlining the process and giving employers the ability to easily track compliance.

Hayden Taylor, manager of CAJ NZ Apples Roseburn Orchard in Central Otago, is already seeing the benefits.

“It was great to be able to train my foreman up in his required Codling Moth Trap Surveyor certifications online,” he said.

NZAPI Capability Development Manager, Erin Simpson, described the work as “ground-breaking for primary industry sector groups”.

Simpson welcomed the passing of the Education (Vocational Education and Training) Amendment Bill on April 1, 2020, which formalised the government’s commitment to bringing industry and educators together to future-proof New Zealand’s workforce.

One of the key changes instigated by the Reform of Vocational Education is the creation of Workforce Development Councils, which give industry greater leadership across vocational education so learning can better respond to its changing needs.

Simpson is the Chair of Muka Tangata Workforce Development Council, which represents food and fibre industries including dairy, sheep and beef, other livestock, arable, horticulture, fishing, aquaculture, equine, winemaking, silviculture and harvesting, and sports turf management.

“The importance of Muka Tangata is that it gives us a vehicle to create the changes that we want to see around learning in our industry in the future,” Simpson said.

Simpson envisions a future in which learning is more directly relevant to industry needs and workers flex between online, on the job, and classroom-based training, developing skills that can be “woven into the fabric of formal qualifications’.

In his role with NZAPI Simpson has worked closely with eCampus NZ to break the ground for some of the changes he would like to see in the future. The launch of the new online assessments is just the latest step in the organisation’s move towards industry-led digital training.

In 2019, the two organisations collaboratively developed a skills-focused online training course – or micro-credential – to help workers in the pipfruit industry develop their understanding of New Zealand’s biosecurity and phytosanitary systems. The online components allow staff around the country to learn independently before attending face-to-face workshops. Like the new assessments, the online training is available on eCampus NZ’s work-integrated learning platform, Learning Engine.

Learners are awarded a digital badge when they successfully complete the course. These can be displayed on resumes and shared on social media and professional networking sites.

“Everyone who has quality control responsibilities within our post-harvest facilities around the country is required to undertake this training. This represents a huge number of people in our packhouses,” Simpson said.

In 2020, NZAPI, Go Hort, and eCampus NZ, with support from MPI created a series of free online micro-credentials to attract job seekers and career changers into jobs and training in the primary industries.

The ten short ‘taster’ courses introduce learners to the career opportunities available in horticulture and cover a range of topics, from health and safety to leading a team in an orchard or packhouse.

The courses are being promoted through the Ministry of Primary Industries’ ‘Opportunity Grows Here’ campaign, which was launched last year to help New Zealanders find employment opportunities in the primary sector.

The government’s 2020 budget allocated $19.3 million towards attracting and training displaced workers into the primary industries and growing the workforce by 10,000 people.

“We see these courses as being the future of how we engage with Kiwis starting their pathway into our industry as well as being a resource for anyone curious and wanting to learn more about what goes on in the world of fruit and veg,” said Horticulture NZ Capability Manager Emma Boase when the courses launched in early 2021.

Simpson says the courses, which are open to everyone, represent the horticulture industry’s “public front door’.

“Workers displaced from jobs as a result of COVID-19 can use these taster courses to find a home in the horticulture industry and understand how their current skillset will support them in our industry,” he said.

The courses have proven popular across diverse age groups, and over 350 digital badges have been awarded since they were launched in time for the 2021 harvest season. They been also used by high school and tertiary educators keen to give their learners a taste of the horticulture industry.

The resources in the courses were designed so they can be used as standalone resources in other contexts, and NZAPI and eCampus NZ hope to see them re-used and repurposed by other horticulture sectors and Te Pūkenga subsidiaries.

Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) has already integrated the courses into Primary Industries programmes. In addition to gaining digital badges, what students learn in the courses is recognised as part of their work towards an NZQA accredited qualification.

“EIT sees the badges as an innovative component of our Primary Industries qualifications. The online delivery of the badges helps meet the literacy requirements of our programmes and the content helps meet the graduate profile outcomes across a variety of qualifications, particularly the health and safety badge. We are embedding the badges into as many of our programmes as possible,” said Paul Keats from EIT’s School of Primary Industries.

The courses have also piqued the interest of NZAPI members. Hayden Taylor completed all of the courses and wants to incorporate the health and safety course into his induction process on the orchard.

“I’m trying to bring in different styles of training. My style of training and teaching revolves around getting people to forget that working on the orchard is a job and realise that it can be a passion,” Taylor said when he completed the courses.

He shares Simpson’s enthusiasm for innovative new training options.

“I think there’s a huge potential for micro-credentials in the changed landscape after COVID-19. It gives potential for those who have lost jobs to quickly upskill in new areas of employment and makes it easy for managers to train staff in specific areas,” Taylor said.

Simpson sees the courses as a step in the right direction.

“This is a great example of collaborative work between industry and New Zealand’s education sector to offer agile, timely, adaptable learning opportunities in response to specific industry challenges such as labour shortages. Innovative managers like Hayden also see the benefits of this kind of training,” said Simpson.

Other challenges faced by the food and fibre sector include ensuring that training keeps pace with advances in automation, AI and other agritech innovations.

“Our industry is changing so quickly that the five-year review cycle for NZQA’s qualifications and unit standards is not fast enough. To keep pace with new technologies like robotics and automation, we need the flexibility and adaptability to create small, bespoke packages of learning that respond directly to skill gaps in our industry as they occur. Workers need to be able to access up-to-date learning materials, complete assessments, and become accredited as soon as skill gaps are identified. Over time, these skills will become part of a bigger package of learning, like a certificate or diploma,” he said.

Simpson believes that New Zealand is on the cusp of transformative change in the way we deliver education and training.

“Our work with eCampus NZ has helped us to get ahead of many of the positive changes we will see in the coming years. It gives us a glimpse into what the future will look like,” he said.

 

Photo credit: Hayden Taylor on CAJ NZ Apples Roseburn Orchard in Central Otago.

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