By Andrew Olsen, CEO, Rural Contractors New Zealand.
When he was Prime Minister in the 1990s Jim Bolger had a plaque in his Beehive office which featured a pair of clasped hands and a short prayer that said, Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
I’m thinking of getting a copy for my wall after my experiences working with RCNZ members trying to get 200 desperately needed skilled machinery operators approved and announced in mid-December, into the country.
Events eventually overtook the endless delays with the PM’s early February announcement that the borders were opening, including in mid-March, to critically needed workers like ours.
Unfortunately, the Government wasn’t moving as fast as we needed. Acknowledging they have a ‘bit on at the moment’ the procedure from application to arrival requires Bolger-like patience and a degree in multi-government agency process.
It was too long a time for contractors who needed the workers here in January. Our plea to the Government now is to get these issues sorted so we secure the 400-500 skilled machinery operators from overseas that we will need, once again, from spring. It shouldn’t be this hard for business to be able to do business.
How we as a nation solve this divide between the requirements of a fast-paced industry and the slow-moving wheels of the Government will take a book, not a column to explore and suggest any solutions. I’m going to focus on the things that we as Rural Contractors NZ can and are doing to make the boat, we are in charge of, actually go faster.
First, we have in the past four months introduced a new training initiative especially designed for our sector. HanzonJobs is the initiative of former contractor Richard Houston who recognised that many in our sector have skill levels that would put a professor to shame, but no easy way to record and recognise these skills.
His HanzonJobs app allows rural contractors to employ young (or not so) people and then have them record the various tasks they perform. It gives the employer and the trainee a solid record of what skills they have developed.
Richard has worked his backhoe off getting nearly 100 trainees in place around the country, principally in Southland, Canterbury and Waikato but all over the country.
The RCNZ Board put in some cash, but MPI wrote the big cheque and I have every expectation that we will build on the solid start base and expand HanzonJobs through this year and beyond. One further advantage could be getting our Irish and English operators to use it and then compare their skills with Kiwis. I’d expect it will reinforce the case to keep the overseas workers coming in, until such time as the skills gap is closed.
How we as a nation solve this divide between the requirements of a fast-paced industry and the slow-moving wheels of the Government will take a book, not a column to explore and suggest any solutions.
Rural contractors aren’t expecting this to continue forever. We are committed to training Kiwis; we do it every day, often just not in a recognised way. That’s why the RCNZ Board at its February meeting approved the formation of a National Training Council to have input into the design and oversight of training. Contractors and the primary industry as a whole need an improved pathway from school to apprenticeship to industry and help reduce the reliance on overseas workers and build a more resilient Kiwi workforce.
We’re also really excited to announce a North and South Island Young Contractor of the Year Award. The award results, to be announced at our June conference, will be based on the HanzonJobs experience and we’ll be in the market soon with more about this opportunity to promote our newest and brightest.
In the interim, the welfare of my members remains a prime focus. The stresses of too few staff and too many hours are taking their toll.
Thanks to some well-received funding from WorkSafe, Rural Contractors NZ is bringing a little KYNDness to our members. Dr Tom Mulholland is a rural GP and mental health advocate who for the past seven years has toured rural New Zealand in his retro Chevy ambulance doing house calls and taking the pulse of the rural community through his KYND app (Know Your Numbers Dashboard).
RCNZ is providing confidential and complimentary six-month access to the KYND wellness app to gather important anonymised data on the mental, physical and social health of members and staff.
Dr Tom is doing a February webinar with RCNZ members and will then present his findings and recommendations at our annual conference in Invercargill in June.
I intend taking up Dr Tom’s offer myself and hope many rural contractors will do the same. We all need the courage to change the things we can.