The Great Futures in Dairying Plan: One Year On

November 2023

Project updates

5 min read

Just over a year ago DairyNZ launched the Great Futures in Dairying Plan, which was developed with input from a wide range of farmers and sector stakeholders.

This 10-year plan highlights the challenges the dairy sector faces with the workforce shortage. More importantly, it identifies initiatives to improve workforce retention and to continue to build a sustainable and thriving dairy sector.

During the development of this plan, farmers, government and farming sector representatives identified three key problems underpinning the on-farm workforce shortage:

  1. The dairy sector is heavily reliant on people to operate.
  2. The sector is not attracting enough people.
  3. The sector is not keeping enough of the right people with the right skills.

The Great Futures in Dairying Plan identifies a range of initiatives to respond to these issues under three action areas:

  1. Shape up so we are competitive and grow and retain our people. This includes supporting farmers to make workplaces more competitive in the wider job market, investing in careers for our people and facilitating access to international employees to fill critical workforce gaps.
  2. Change the job to provide modern, productive and safe workplaces. This looks at embracing new technology and strategies to improve work-life balance.
  3. Look in new places to attract a larger and more diverse talent pool. This area looks at how farmers can be supported more in recruitment, onboarding and employment practices so they make the most of the talent pool.

What's been happening?

The last 12 months has established a solid foundation for creating an impact, with the primary emphasis on the Shape Up area. This focus stems from 67% of contributors to the plan identifying it as the top priority for action.

Fulfilling the vision outlined in the plan requires both time and cross-sector collaboration. Highlights featured below represent achievements from a range of organisations contributing to common goals.

Shape Up

Know and meet the market

Farmers report that they don’t have the information needed to construct competitive job offers. The Job Competitiveness Calculator was launched in April 2023 to help with this, using comparators from other industries to describe what it takes to be competitive. Also see the insights and case studies which help to make the calculator more real.

Train employers

DairyNZ and Dairy Women’s Network partnered to deliver four marque People Expo events in Southland, Canterbury, Taranaki, and Waikato. The focus was on the future realities of the workforce, and what it will take to secure staff in that future. Our keynote speaker was Shamubeel Eaqub who spoke to issues in his report: The Future of Workforce Supply. There are also a wide range of private and public sector initiatives across the sector providing employer training.

Accredit good employers

Employer certification was raised again during plan consultation as a strategy to enhance retention and attraction in the sector. A project to evaluate certification schemes found no empirical evidence to support their impact on retention and attraction. However, there were aspects of certification schemes, mainly related to engaging and training staff, that were shown to lead to increased productivity. These are two practices employers can work on without the need for a certification scheme. The study also found farmers were concerned about what could be seen as additional “compliance” and thought any requirements should be incorporated into dairy company assurance schemes. In the medium term we expect higher levels of certification will be required to support product integrity claims. As these requirements emerge, we will collaborate with farmers and other stakeholders to reassess incorporating additional value adding certification criteria.

Access international employees

DairyNZ and Federated Farmers have been actively engaged in immigration policy around issues including the use of the median wage and access to training for international workers. This work is continuing.

Keep new people

Sponsored by DairyNZ, the Rural Support Trust has taken the lead on providing advice to employees on wellbeing and employment relationship issues when things aren’t going to plan. See the new Employee Support section on the Rural Support Trust’s website.

Promote dairy farming careers

DairyNZ has continued to promote careers through GoDairy and investment in agribusiness and ag/hort science in secondary schools through Agribusiness in Schools and Sow the Seed. This work continues alongside MPI’s Opportunity Grows Here. We have also been undertaking investigative work to better understand opportunities to “nudge and broker career changers” off the back of the GoDairy platform.

Facilitate career pathways

Dairy Training Limited, a subsidiary of DairyNZ has developed a Contract Milking short course to support first time contract milkers to understand the benefits and bear traps to look out for when starting their own business. We hope to see fewer people prematurely leaving the sector as a result.

Muka Tangata, the People Food and Fibre Workforce Development Council, has built a Dairy Workforce Development Plan, among others, focussed on how the vocational education system can support individuals to build the capability required for a successful career and to enable dairy farm businesses to be successful into the future. This is underpinned by workforce data projects, the Shared Data Platform from Muka Tangata and Food and Fibre Workforce Insights from the Ministry for Primary Industries. They are also planning a review for agricultural qualifications in the new year.

Support regional farmer groups

This initiative was developed to work with groups of farmers to co-design local solutions to local workforce problems. DairyNZ has employed three Regional Workforce Partners and we are targeting 18 new groups across the motu this year, targeted at GFiD initiatives like Specialising, Allocating Work Differently, and Accessing Non-traditional Talent. For example, a pilot 4-week pre-employment training program has been developed in Southland. Agricademy will deliver the training and Ministry of Social Development will fund the training and a wage subsidy. Importantly, one of the farmer group members has committed to provide ongoing employment subject to satisfactory completion of the training, thus providing a visible path.

Change the Job

Get more efficient

DairyNZ’s workplace productivity research project took an in-depth look at over 150 dairy farms to understand workplace efficiency. This information is being used to develop appropriate benchmarks. The results and opportunities for improved efficiency can be found here: Workplace Productivity Study.

MilkSmart was developed as a one-day programme focussed on benchmarking current milking performance, sharpening up milking routines and introducing the principles of maximum milking time (MaxT). This was run in twelve locations through the country and will be repeated later this year.

Reducing injury risk underpins efficiency and has been investigated in the joint DairyNZ/ACC Sprains & Strains Project which has delivered a number of practical solutions including the Easy Entry Calf Trailer.

Adopt automation (including milking and other tasks)

DairyNZ’s five yearly tracking survey of technology use on farm shows automation investment remains a focus for farmers, and wearables are on the rise. See what farmers are doing, and not doing so much of here: Milking Practices and Technology Use.

Look in New Places

Improving transitions from school

The Food & Fibre Centre of Vocational Education Excellence has carried out a review of Apprenticeships, what they mean in the food and fibre sector, and how they might be relevant into the future as a means to encourage transitions into the sector.

Access non-traditional talent

The Food & Fibre Cove has completed a review of attraction & retention projects that can be found here: Attraction and Retention Research Programme. This is being used to shape initiatives for the future.

DairyNZ has been working with MPI and MBIE on a project with Pasifika peoples in South Canterbury to stimulate interest in on farm dairy careers and better understand how we can support transitions into the sector. See the Pasifika Showcase video.

Additional links

Great Futures in Dairying

Rowena Duncum interviews DairyNZ's Nick Robinson.

Fieldays 2022: GoDairy - Great Futures in Dairying

Video 11:15 min

Page last updated:

21 Nov 2023


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