The Kaiaka Wool Industry Training Trust established by the New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association (NZSCA) has received $1.86 million from the Provincial Growth Fund to fund an innovative 21st century wool harvesting training programme.

The NZSCA formed the trust to assist the new multi-format vocational training programme developed specifically for the wool harvesting sector.

Their plan is to train 270 shearers and shed hands (wool handlers and pressers) over a two-year period. That’s funding of about $6890 per trainee.

The training programme has been developed by Agricademy, a company specialising in developing agricultural training programmes.

Agricademy director and shareholder Alister Shennan says they started developing the wool harvesting training programme in 2019.

They established WOMOLife (of which Shennan is managing director) to facilitate and deliver their training programme. He says to qualify for a share of the PGF funding from the Kaiaka Wool Industry Training Trust, they had to compete with other training providers to show the quality of their proposed programmes.

He says WOMOLife stands for ‘Work Wise, Move Wise’, and its core is the philosophy ‘work wise, move wise for a longer, more sustainable career’.

They have created an extensive library of training videos for online training. He says the online training will be supported by practical training days delivered in woolsheds by WOMOLife accredited trainers.

The shearer trainees’ movement patterns will be evaluated to identify and minimise the potential risk of personal injury. Trainees will also learn about the importance of fitness, health and safety, as well as nutrition and wellbeing.

As well as training and upskilling shearers and shed hands already working in woolsheds, WOMOLife also plans to target school leavers, the unemployed, and underemployed people.

Shennan says it’s an earn-as-you-learn programme. The training modules are designed to upskill the whole workforce employed in the wool harvesting sector who want to improve their shearing style or wool handling technique and learn new skills.

“Our training model is innovative and is a mix of traditional hands-on learning experiences attached to an online platform. We know there’s no substitute for hands-on learning in the woolshed with experienced and accredited trainers.”

NZSCA president Mark Barrowcliffe says top-quality training programmes are essential for shearers and shed hands to build on their existing knowledge and skills as well as to offer people entering the wool harvesting workforce a safer career path.

He says shearing contractors employ more than 3000 workers and provide shearers and shed hands to about 8000 sheep farms every year, shearing at least 70% of NZ’s sheep annually.

Keeping injury-free in a physically demanding job is a major issue for not only shearers, shed hands and contractors, but also sheep farmers.

The wool harvesting sector has an ACC work account of more than $25 million in claims liability.

Barrowcliffe says the funding from PGF will help solve the industry’s predicted shortage of shearers and wool handlers. “We managed to get through the pre-lamb shear with adequate numbers of shearers and shed hands, but getting through the main shear from November to March could see shortages of shed hands.”

Online learning platform Tahi Ngatahi uses videos to pass on health and safety skills and information to shearing contractors, farmers and their employees. Tahi Ngatahi is a joint venture initiative between the NZSCA, Federated Farmers, WorkSafe New Zealand and ACC.

Until the 1990s the New Zealand Wool Board wool harvesting training programmes (funded from wool levies) were recognised as the best in the world, and provided training for farmers, shearers, shed hands, pressers and classers. Those with Wool Board shearing and wool handling certificates were highly sought after throughout the world. Shearers and wool handlers became an international workforce, with many opportunities to travel and work in Australia, England, Europe and America.