More support needed to build hort training centre

Horticulture offers rewarding career opportunities believe Erin Atkinson, Manager Apata GROW Paul O’Brien, director of Apata Suppliers Entity Limited and Kate Trufitt, Compliance and Avocado General Manager.

“We all know one of the biggest challenges facing our industry’s future is a shortage of labour, which makes this project so important,” says Apata Suppliers Entity Limited’s director Paul O’Brien.

He’s talking about Katikati Innovative Horticulture Trust’s project to construct a purpose-built facility in Katikati to train and educate people of all ages seeking employment in the horticultural industry.

Fund raising has now reached the halfway mark, giving the trust behind the project the confidence to commission drawings and specification for the building.

The centre of excellence, based at Katikati College will bring together educational skills and training providers under one umbrella to offer pathways into horticulture.

But more support is needed. Paul is inviting other postharvest companies, and businesses involved in the industry’s service sectors – from beekeeping, to transport, to IT to irrigation and fertiliser supplies – to make donations to project after he and fellow growers, who supply fruit to Apata Group Ltd and Western Orchards Limited, have donated $16,800 to KIHT.

“When the proposal to make the donation was put to the Apata Suppliers Entity Ltd board, there was no hesitation – we all agreed such a facility is needed to ensure our industry has trained people to meet its growing future needs,” says Paul.

“There are already amazing careers in horticulture and in future, there will be jobs we haven’t even imagined yet.”

The decision was welcomed by two Apata staff members – Apata GROW manager Erin Atkinson, Apata’s compliance and avocado general manager Kate Trufitt, who both recognise the importance of encouraging more people, especially school-leavers, to consider careers in horticulture.

Work/life balance

Erin, the first woman to win the national title of Young Fruit Grower of the Year, is now a member of Apata’s management team. “I love my job and many of my friends are envious of the opportunities it offers, including work/life balance.

“I work hard and love doing so, but horticulture also gives me the chance to enjoy time out for other interests,” says Erin, who thoroughly recommends horticulture as a career.

Kate, who joined Apata Group in 2015, has experience in marketing citrus, pip fruit, feijoas and avocados. She’s also held a number of roles in operations and logistics before turning her skills to human resources, compliance, health and safety, and sustainability.

“There is so much more to horticulture than picking and packing fruit or vegetables. There are jobs for all interests and skills including in human resources, compliance, finance, research and development, IT, laboratory work and much more.”

Katikati College’s innovative horticulture manager Hilary Johnson says they’re asking for everybody’s support. “The Katikati Community can do this, and every little bit helps.”

Hilary says the trust is grateful for the donations, both large and small from private individuals, post-harvest companies, orchardists and businesses, with money coming in even during the Covid-19 lock down period.

“With continued support, we will have plans drawn up and aim to begin construction early next year.”

The building will be a simple, utilitarian facility purpose designed for courses providing pathways into the horticultural industry’s diverse careers. There are careers in science, research and technology, in finance, in infrastructure, as well as, orchard and post-harvest management and hands-on orchard roles, all with opportunities for further training and career advancement. Building the facility in Katikati will benefit students of all ages, the local community and the wider industry.

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