Pastoral care the key to success
In October this year the Government announced a $940,000 investment into a two-year horticulture training programme run by Four Seasons in Gisborne. Andrew Ashton speaks to the man in charge of making it work.
Four Seasons managing director Elliot Callender hopes a programme to train 56 full-time employees over the next two years will help address skills shortages in the horticulture sector and provide an ongoing benefit to the community.
It will also boost Four Season’s small team of full-time employees and help to ensure the viability of its new services division.
The Government announced a $940,000 investment in the programme through the Provincial Growth Fund in October, with the aim of Four Seasons training 31 full-time employees in the first year and another 19 the next year.
Speaking to The Gisborne Herald in more depth about the project, Mr Callendar said Four Seasons started as a harvesting/packing operation for squash only — so had a very small team of permanent staff.
“Over time we developed a citrus packing division, where we pack citrus for domestic and export markets. We are an independent packhouse, so we can harvest, pack and supply and do all the logistics for the customers’ requirements.
“We are MPI (Ministry for Primary Industries)-approved for packing and containerisation of export products like squash and citrus.”
Mr Callender said the biggest change in the market, and the reason why the company was developing its Four Seasons Services division, was to ensure security of labour.
“Our core business — harvesting and packing — is being severely affected by the shortage of skilled labour. So, we can’t rely on seasonal employment any more.
“The low unemployment rates we have presently have led to a reduction in seasonal employee availability — the good seasonal employees have now got full-time work.
“Every season we have to recruit and retrain. It’s extremely challenging and expensive.”
That had also combined to create uncertainty in the industry around whether requirements could be met.
“Hence the reason we moved to the citrus as well, to try to retain staff.
“Now, through the help of the PGF and Shane Jones, we are able to develop Four Seasons Services.”
Mr Callender had been developing the service division over the winter, before the Ministry of Social Development (MSD) contacted him to request a meeting with senior PGF officials.
“That was really surprising,” he said.
“They really liked what we were trying to do and suggested we apply for funding.
“We are a small company and to achieve what we have done, and want to do, couldn’t have been realised without their support, which includes local support from Activate Tairawhiti (now Trust Tairawhiti) offering business support, through mentoring and other resources.
“I actually didn’t realise all that support was out there.
“It has helped me develop as a person and as a businessman. It has been highly worthwhile, seeking help.”
The next move would be to recruit an operations manager, alongside pastoral care managers to drive the project.
“This project won’t work without that pastoral care element because our main recruitment tool will be working with MSD and their clients.
“The goal for this project is to be a beacon for employment but I want our potential customers to see that we have this wellbeing aspect to our employment.
“I think that will work well with customers, who can have that knowledge that the people on their property are being looked after.”
The company would be targeting both citrus and kiwifruit growers going forward.
“There is a lot of work out there. In a few years time, when all the kiwifruit and the apples that have been planted are producing, there’s going to be a huge pressure on contractors.
“We want to stand out differently, and I think having that wellbeing aspect is key to making this project a success.”
Mr Callender said this project was “just a start”.
“A lot of companies have responded with a lot of interest in this project and I am very confident we can employ well over 50 people.”
While there had been some tough times in the past for the squash industry, China was now a new destination that was growing and sustaining good pricing.
“I am very grateful and I feel privileged to have the ability to have this funding. I think it will help our community and I believe that other businesses should try to talk to the local PGF staff and see how else they can work to develop this community of ours.
“I feel really good about this. It gives us the horsepower to train and develop local employees.
“We want to provide a service to our growers that has a competitive edge but provides a knowledge that the staff we are supplying are looked after.”