Upskilling for primary sector takes off at Telford

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JOHN.COSGROVE@nullcluthaleader.co.nz

Staff at the Southern Institute of Technology (SIT) Telford campus say there may have been a silver lining to Covid-19.

During Telford’s open day on Friday, SIT programme manager Debbie Rankin said the pandemic had subtly changed the student demographic, and added more to the campus.

‘‘Working alongside our main group of students undertaking the certificates and diplomas in agriculture and animal technology on site, we are now becoming much more involved in primary industry upskilling.’’

As a result, the campus was considering expanding the number of short and intensive courses offered, to retrain those such as visitors caught in New Zealand due to the pandemic, and a growing number of adult students wanting to upskill and find work in primary industries.

‘‘These are different from the more formalised courses we do here. They include agricultural contractor training short courses, Telford Taster camps and Go Dairy courses.

‘‘We are also looking at forestry, organics, soil, animal health and agri-vehicle training.

‘‘The students coming here for the courses are gold because they want to learn, they are so motivated and the industry is looking for suitably qualified and experienced people.’’

She said Ministry for Primary Industries-sponsored courses were usually intensive — sometimes only six weeks long
— and students would spend two weeks at Telford, two in Invercargill and two on placement.

‘‘It’s mainly for entry level qualifications but it’s aimed at helping them get started in the industry,’’ Ms Rankin said.

In the Go Dairy courses, students ‘‘really do learn what to expect when working on a dairy farm’’, she said.

During lockdown, many of the 130 students went back to family farms.

‘‘We moved from a practical-based learning system to one that encompassed online learning skills.

‘‘The students loved it.

‘‘When we were able to come back into the campus, we cut right back on field trips and expanded the use of our own on›site farming systems.’’

Since SIT took over the 56›year›old farm institute in February last year, following its near closure, Telford had grown, and while there were still some big changes to come, staff had been provided with greater stability.

‘‘There is great support within the SIT umbrella, and now we are looking forward to the bigger changes when the country’s 16 institutes of technology and polytechnics are replaced by . . . the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Technology.

‘‘There is still a lot to do for primary industry training and we will be part of that.’’