26 Jun 2020

Heavy machinery driver shortage leads to plea for overseas workers to be allowed

2:48 pm on 26 June 2020

A government backed course aimed at giving heavy machinery training to people made redundant by Covid-19 is attracting a large number of immigrants on work visas.

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Photo: 123rf.com

The organisation Rural Contractors New Zealand say they will be short of 1000 skilled tractor and heavy machinery drivers this summer and it is calling on the Minister of Agriculture to allow overseas workers in under the essential worker category.

Minister Damien O'Connor said he realised there were skills shortages and that may require looking at how to bring some people safely back into the country to plug those gaps.

But he said his first priority is helping find work for New Zealanders who have lost their jobs due to Covid-19 and earlier this month the government made money available for the Southern Institute of Technology to run courses to retrain people.

There are a half-dozen six-week long modules being run at Telford training farm near Balclutha.

The first course started two weeks ago and in total they will train 120 people.

See all RNZ coverage of Covid-19

Telford programme leader Debbie Rankin said there was a huge mix on the first over-subscribed course from a pilot to a pharmacist, jet boat driver and rural workers changing career direction.

But also a third of those enrolled were from overseas.

"What they really need is to be offered a job placement so they can vary the conditions of their visa," she said.

The immigrant participants are mainly from tourism jobs and ones related to tourism.

"There were taxi drivers from Queenstown for example ... coming from a range of countries. On the course we have someone from Japan, two people from India and one person from Brazil," Rankin said

She admits it will be a huge step up for many and they will only be ready for basic work with rural contracting roles.

However Rankin said the contracting body said it could work with people as long as they had a keen attitude to work and learning, and the current participants certainly have that, "they want to succeed".

A further 80 people have enrolled in the courses so far and Rankin said the mix seems to still be a third who are immigrants on short term working visas.

"But they all have an attitude to learn, are determined and desperate to succeed."

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