WITH closed borders and no backpackers or casual labour coming in, a Southland blueberry farm is focusing its recruitment on locals – especially young ones.
Otautau’s Blueberry Country general manager Simon Bardon believed Kiwis – to a certain extent – “self-excluded” themselves from the job opportunities in fruit farms in the past.
“My gut feeling is that because they knew we had a lot of foreign workers, they didn’t come because they thought we did not have work for them.”
Mr Bardon said at the beginning of the pandemic, he thought there would be time to sort staffing, but as the months passed by, he began to get worried.
Covid-19 and winter was a challenge for the business as it was usually a very busy season for his farm with a “massive” programme of pruning and planting.
Mr Bardon knew this year would be different after he advertised for four casual positions to help the permanent staff.
He was overwhelmed with the response – in a few hours he had more than 40 applications.
“The ad went live at 11.15am but by 2pm I was trying to shut it down. Everybody was quite excited because no-one was advertising in the middle of winter.
“That was very unusual for us.”
However, he believed a lot of the travellers who “have been a great workforce” had now returned to their countries and Mr Bardon believed it was a great opportunity to focus on employing locals.
“The truth is we’ve always wanted locals – we want locals that will come back each season and have this accumulated knowledge.
“This has certainly been an opportunity for us to get the message across – we are hiring whoever wants to work for us.
“It doesn’t matter if they are local or travellers, there is work here.”
The job would be a great opportunity for young people or those who had just finished their studies as picking blueberries was a demanding job, he said.
“There are some realities – you’ve got to be well co-ordinated, you need to be able to move quickly and you are working on your feet all day.”
The farm, along with Great South’s Southland Youth Futures (SYF), would be promoting the jobs at an employment information day at the farm near Otautau on Saturday as it needed about 150 pickers for its busy summer picking season.