Alan Paterson traded a diesel mechanic career in Australia’s mines to work on his parents’ Kaharoa farm, north of Rotorua.
His partner Michaela also made the switch “from high heels to gumboots”, from a career in banking to being on-farm.
Eight seasons and three kids later, the couple have no regrets. “When I was a mechanic, I worked 13 days on, one day off. One time, I only saw Michaela once in six weeks,” says Alan.
“My parents had a milking position going, and we took it. Now, we’re 50/50 sharemilkers.”
Wanting to make more stories like this, last month the Government and the dairy sector launched a new campaign called GoDairy to support Covid-19 affected workers into farming careers.
“We know that people have lost their jobs because of Covid-19, and we know there is significant and urgent demand for trained workers in the dairy sector,” says Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor, who says the Government has invested $3.5 million into the initiative.
“We want to continue to connect people with jobs in dairy, and more broadly in the primary industries because we know these sectors will be key to our economic recovery.”
DairyNZ’s chief executive Dr Tim Mackle says currently 1000 jobs are available on dairy farms –particularly in the Waikato, Canterbury, Southland and Otago. And with the new season underway, he expects more positions will open up.
“For people looking for work and like the idea of caring for animals and the environment, there are lots of jobs and career progression opportunities. Also, dairy pays one of the highest average wages of all the primary sectors.”
According to government figures, entry positions average $48,000 per annum, rising to $60,000-$62,000 for herd and assistant manager positions, and $78,000 for farm managers.
GoDairy now also offers training courses to help people transition into farming. DairyNZ’s GoDairy Farm Ready Training courses for newcomers are already underway, with 64 of an expected 500 participants receiving an online introduction to farming. This is followed by two weeks of hands-on training on farms. Training is for NZ residents and citizens only.
Social Development Minister Carmel Sepuloni says MSD is focused on getting New Zealanders into jobs and this is an important partnership to support people who want to refocus their skill sets. “We have direct access to the largest pool of available talent in NZ and can help the dairy sector fill jobs while supporting New Zealanders into an important career pathway.”
Tim says while the new campaign is in its early days, there is good interest from people. “Like all successful businesses, dairy farming needs good talent.”
For Alan, farming’s biggest benefit is being able to spend time with family. “Getting to have breakfast with my boys in the morning means a lot. My parents also live on-farm – so it’s been nice for them to see so much of their grandkids.”
And in a way, he didn’t give up his diesel mechanic career. “There’s always breakdowns and an excuse to get my tools out. You also have to be a plumber, sparky, accountant – all sorts.
“Every day is different, and I enjoy the variety,” says Alan, who milks 275 cows with one employee. “I do miss working around more people, but we make sure we go to field days and things like that.”
He says the most challenging transition has been from employee to employer. “It was a bit of a shock. I’d definitely say staffing is the hardest part. But hands down, the work itself is awesome.
“If someone was looking in to going farming, I’d tell them it’s not the bad industry that recent publicity makes out. Our job is to work with the environment, it’s in our best interest to protect it.”
For more information, see: godairy.co.nz Or call 0800 4 DAIRYNZ.