Food and Fibre

Food and Fibre

Last updated 1 March 2021
Last updated 1 March 2021

The Tertiary Education Commission (TEC) is working with industry groups to attract and grow a workforce with the right skills to meet current and future needs of the food and fibre sectors.

The food and fibre sectors help drive our economy and are central to New Zealand’s sustainable development. These sectors make up 80 percent of merchandise export earnings, contribute 11 percent of GDP and employ 350,000 people – 15 percent of New Zealand’s total employment.

In 2018, only nine percent of domestic tertiary students studied towards a food- and fibre-related qualification; learner numbers have been in decline the past five years.

TEC’s post-study outcome (PSO) data shows that most graduates enjoy the outcomes from good employment and income. However, industry skill and labour shortages and low learner engagement with food- and fibre-specific provision show that the current system is not responding to industry demand. Negative perceptions, poor information and competition have made it difficult to attract the right people.  

TEC is committed to helping tackle the challenges being faced in these sectors. Our Food and Fibre Sector Investment Brief (PDF 790 KB) (PDF, 790 Kb) explains what we are focusing on and how we are making investment decisions.

In 2018 the TEC invested $77.4 million for all levels of food- and fibre-related provision.

How is TEC helping to address these challenges?

Building strategic partnerships and encourage co-investment

TEC is working with partners such as MPI, MBIE, Growing NZ (PICA) and other industry groups to better deliver the skills needed by industry and learners. Relevant initiatives include the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), the Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures, MPI’s Skills Action Plan and a proposed Forestry and Wood Processing Workforce Development Action Plan. We are encouraging TEOs to work with:

  • employers and industry groups to track progress in skill needs
  • schools and other TEOs to establish pathways
  • iwi and other Māori organisations to address the needs of their learners and local regions.

Encouraging the development of quality and innovative learning packages and accessible pathways

We need innovation in learning packages to meet industry and learner needs. TEC is interested in innovative programmes and delivery models that facilitate graduates and career changers to apply their skills to food and fibre sector opportunities. We will increase investment in areas that connect people to food and fibre workplaces. We support upscaling successful initiatives and developing micro-credentials that address the food and fibre demand-and-supply gaps.

We will invest in growing provision, especially at:

  • level 4 apprenticeships and related pathways
  • levels 5-6 provisions related to management capability in the food and fibre sector
  • food- and fibre sector-specific degree and post graduate provisions.  

Recent TEC initiatives include funding pilots of recognition of prior learning and micro-credentials in the dairy and horticultural industries to build pathways to agribusiness management. We are also funding training schemes to support pathways to management capability development roles. 

TEC is working with Primary ITO and Horticulture NZ on a possible new model of L4 and related provision for the horticultural sector that combines in-work training with stronger academic content. We are also working with the sheep and beef sector on a new farm network-based training model.

NZQA has a regulatory framework in place and TEC is now funding micro-credentials through both Student Achievement Component (SAC) and the Industry Training Fund (ITF). These currently range from wool handling to biosecurity. TEC expects demand growth for micro-credentials from the food and fibre sectors.

Better quality learner information and careers services to attract people to the food and fibre sectors

The food and fibre sectors need more of the right skills to lift productivity and tackle future technical and environmental challenges.

We have created an interactive food and fibre sectors hub as a central source of information about food and fibre-related careers and to bust some of the myths associated with these sectors: Our jobs database on gets updated regularly with food and fibre-related roles, with input and guidance from industry groups.

Relevance of the Reform of Vocational Education (RoVE)

The RoVE reforms will inherently change our funding landscape. RoVE reforms aim for a unified vocational education training (VET) system with a stronger industry voice and an increased focus on in-work learning.  The creation of the New Zealand Institute of Skills and Training (working name) aims to enhance nation-wide provision and make it easier for learners to move between on-the-job and off-the-job learning.

Matching skills to demand is an important short-term priority. It is essential that learners have transferable skills. We need to prepare people for an unknown future where lifelong learning means they can adapt to technological and workplace change.

A Primary Sector Centre of Vocational Excellence (CoVE) has been announced. This will include education and industry experts, and will drive innovation and excellence in vocational teaching and learning within the primary sector. It may also include an applied research function. The MPI-led Food and Fibre Skills Establishment Group will assist with developing this CoVE.

A Workforce Development Council (WDC) for Primary Industries has also been announced. WDC’s will set standards, develop qualifications and help shape the curriculum of vocational education.

The food and fibre sectors are encouraged to actively engage in the development of the WDC and the CoVE.