Labour shortages, challenges for the harvest season and the Future of Work


Labour shortages are dominating businesses’ thinking across the region, and country, at the moment. There are a few factors affecting this; businesses will create jobs as the economy grows and will therefore need more people to keep up and New Zealand’s attitude to immigration has changed. Locally we have an aging demographic taking numbers out of the workforce, plus high seasonal demands for employees to contend with. The current Omicron surge will reduce staff availability by around 10-25%, which can significantly impact businesses.

At Priority One we view talent and workforce as the single largest area we need to focus on for future economic success; we need to ensure businesses have adequate staff, we provide opportunities for all, and that incomes increase over the course of time so our standard of living improves. A couple of weeks ago we hosted Deputy PM Grant Robertson for a talk on the Future of Work, an initiative he champions for government and a topic we were due to host a conference on, which was unfortunately scuppered by Covid. Grant highlighted the roles of technology, skills and partnerships in the future of work.  Regionally we see the need to have clear actions from government as well as business, especially in times of abrupt change like this.

From our perspective, we see businesses worried about getting enough staff for the future and making changes to the way they operate to cope with this. Some of this will mean automating tasks are repetitive and predictable, but most of the effort is going into how they improve themselves as employers to attract and retain staff.

One sector that is seeing acute labour shortages at the moment is the kiwifruit industry. This is a very important industry to the Bay, creating a lot of wealth and showing great growth over the past few years. Unfortunately, the border opening for NZ has come a bit too late for kiwifruit, and the industry is really feeling the lack of backpackers in particular – with the industry now several thousand people short and harvest already underway. The consequences of this are quite serious, with the real risk to many growers that fruit will be left on the vine or unable to be processed. This in turn, affects global supply and the position of kiwifruit vs other alternatives.

The industry is scrambling and has done a good job of making changes to production to cope with the labour shortage, but it won’t be enough. The positive side of this is that the industry has many opportunities and is welcoming of locals interested in seasonal work. For students, there is an opportunity at weekends or during holidays to gain valuable experience alongside some spare cash. The industry also values seniors who may be interested in more flexible work options.

We encourage anyone interested in work in the kiwifruit industry this season to check out the New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc (NZKGI) website or their Facebook page: KiwifruitJobsNZ. Or for more information on our thriving horticulture sector here in the Bay, take a look at our one-page Horticulture resource.

Nigel Tutt, Chief Executive, Priority One.

Priority One Horticulture resource
NZKGI seniors guide
NZKGI seasonal staff flyer