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19 September 2000

Media Release
Straight Furrow

Athletes in the woolshed

In the two years since it was launched, WoolPro has been making good on its promise to attract and retain bright young people in the wool harvesting industry.

There’s now an innovative programme for school leavers as well as enthusiastic participation by WoolPro and shearing contractors in the government’s Modern Apprenticeships Scheme.

Meanwhile, a “Footrot Flats” public image of shearing and wool handling is being overcome. This is largely due to the increased professionalism of contractors and trainers, and to the higher profile of industry competitions.

“The sheep industry is suffering from an ageing workforce,” says training development manager Trevor Gardiner, “but we now believe we have the mechanisms to help change that.

“Young people are being attracted into shearing and wool handling. They can see the opportunities for travel and competition.

“Top shearers, in particular, are athletes. They train and behave like athletes and are increasingly recognised as such.

“Along with wool handlers, they make good money if they work hard. Also, their skills are in demand all around the world.

“The image of shearers and wool handlers as seasonal workers is a thing of the past. They have become full-time professionals.”

Gardiner admits that some shearing sheds and employer attitudes are somewhat less than ideal, but he says this is also changing.

“The wool industry has been through tough times, but more and more growers realise that quality assurance at all steps in the value chain, including their own, is the only way to go.

“There is a growing number of well-lit spotless sheds, where it’s a pleasure to work. Quality focussed growers recognise that it’s essential to have well-maintained facilities if you want to have a quality product going out the front door.”

During the 1999/2000 year, WoolPro trained nearly 1500 shearers, wool handlers and wool classers. Courses ranged from entry-level sessions for beginners, through to two-year tertiary level certificate courses.

All courses have NZQA accreditation. This means course costs, like those at polytechnics and universities, are partially funded by government.

Trainees attending these courses can also achieve unit standards and national certificates in machine and blade shearing, wool handling and pressing.

In the next 12 months, WoolPro will be developing more training courses for the sheep industry – filling some of the gaps left by the withdrawal of services by the agricultural universities, and moving into new areas.

“We are the only grower-owned and grower-funded training organisation, so we have a responsibility to ensure that essential skills are developed and maintained within the sheep industry,” says Gardiner.

“In the past, people were willing to spend months or years training at tertiary institutes before working in the industry.

“Increasingly the demand is for on-the-job training and block courses close to home. Whether it’s feed budgeting or livestock genetics for farmers, or wool handling and classing for wool harvesters, WoolPro has a role to play.

“Expect some exciting initiatives in the next 12 months.”

For more information about WoolPro’s wool harvesting courses -- Schools Programme, Apprenticeships, shearing, wool handling and classing courses and the tertiary-level Certificate -- please contact or phone Trevor Gardiner on 04-471-4654.



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