Future workforce skills for the primary industries

The primary industries are the backbone of New Zealand's economy and our way of life. They bring in billions of dollars every year and make up 1 in every 7 jobs. Find out how the sector will have to adapt to changing needs to continue to thrive.


Careers in the food and fibre sector

If your job has been affected by COVID-19, check out your options in primary industries like the food and fibre sector.

COVID-19 jobs and careers – Growing NZ

Forestry offers broad job opportunities

Forestry is a fast-growing sector offering a broad range of career opportunities whether you're just setting out on your career, or looking for a career change with great potential.

Forestry Careers in New Zealand

Building on our good reputation

New Zealand has a strong reputation for exporting high-quality and sustainable foods and fibres. But we must work hard to adapt if we're to maintain that reputation in a fast-changing world.

Some of the factors redefining how primary industries must work include:

  • higher consumer expectations
  • a greater focus on sustainability
  • new technologies
  • an increasingly complex global supply chain.

New Zealand will have to be innovative at every production step if we're going to hold and grow our competitive advantage in the global market.

Future needs

The primary industries and MPI share a common goal of increasing export returns by 2025. To help reach that goal we'll need more skilled people in the primary industries.

To see how the primary industry workforce is changing, MPI analysed human capabilities in the primary industries between 2004 and 2019.

Human capability in the primary industries: Part 1, 2004 to 2019 – an overview [PDF, 4.9 MB]

Human capability in the primary industries: Part 2, 2004 to 2019 – qualification analysis by region [PDF, 1 MB]

In 2021 we published some fact sheets highlighting statistics about the workforce. These looked at factors including qualifications, gender, diversity, and retention rates.

Fact sheets: Primary industries workforce [PDF, 411 KB]

Monthly composition of the Primary Sector workforces over a year [PDF, 961 KB]

Succession pathways in horticulture

The horticulture industry has been experiencing strong growth, so it’s important it has clear succession pathways. These will help to ensure the industry is able to continue attracting skilled people and help those retiring from the industry to find suitable replacements.

In 2020 we commissioned a report into financial and business mechanisms that can help people to gain ownership of horticulture businesses or build equity through horticultural careers. Most options in the report can also be applied in other primary sectors.

Business succession in the New Zealand horticulture industry [PDF, 1.4 MB]

Report on the skills we need

In 2018 Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service, the Forest Owners Association, and the Forest Industry Contractors Association surveyed the commercial silviculture and harvesting sector. The aim of this work was to better understand industry labour requirements for 2019, and to learn what the industry thinks are the main reasons for labour shortages.

2019 forestry labour requirements survey [PDF, 1.4 MB]

Silviculture labour requirements survey summary [PDF, 364 KB]

An MPI report completed in 2014 also identified the types of skills needed for the primary industries.

Future capability needs for primary industries [PDF, 3.9 MB]

People powered – summary of key findings [PDF, 1.6 MB]

Jobs becoming more specialised

The future of work in the primary industries will be more specialised than it has been in the past. This is driven by:

  • sophisticated technologies
  • a growing market in Asia
  • critical issues around food safety, biosecurity, sustainability, and animal welfare.

Workers in the primary industries will often need non-traditional skills such as language and cultural understanding.

Food and fibre skills action plan

To ensure the food and fibre sector has the workforce it needs, the Primary Industries Skills Leaders Working Group has developed the Food and fibre skills action plan 2019–2022.

This is a critical step towards addressing the challenges food and fibre employers have attracting, training, and retaining a diverse range of people with the right skills.

The proposed actions initially focus on the agriculture and horticulture industries, including meat and dairy processing. They do not cover the fishing or forestry sectors (forestry will have its own action plan released in 2020) or other processing industries. However, close connections and shared challenges are recognised across all food and fibre sectors.

Food and fibre skills action plan 2019–2022 [PDF, 3.1 MB]

Summary of the action plan 2019–2022 [PDF, 414 KB]

Food and fibre skills partnership group

Robust governance, management, and funding arrangements are required to successfully implement the action plan and ensure that food and fibre skills needs are met.

To achieve this, the action plan proposes the establishment of a food and fibre skills partnership group. This will oversee the implementation, monitoring, and evaluation of the action plan.

In the interim, an industry-led establishment group has been set up to engage with the wider food and fibre sector, government, and Māori stakeholders to progress the plan.

Establishment group members

  • Beef + Lamb New Zealand
  • Competenz
  • DairyNZ
  • Federated Farmers
  • Forestry Industry Contractors Association (FICA)
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE)
  • Ministry of Education (MoE)
  • Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI)
  • New Zealand Institute of Primary Industry Management (NZIPIM)
  • New Zealand Shearing Contractors Association (NZSCA)
  • New Zealand Apples & Pears
  • New Zealand Wine
  • New Zealand Young Farmers
  • Primary Industry Capability Alliance (PICA)
  • Primary ITO
  • Primary Sector Council
  • Seafood New Zealand
  • Tertiary Education Commission (TEC)

Forestry and wood processing workforce action plan 2020-2024

The action plan aims to support the development of a skilled, safe, diverse workforce. It was developed by the government and industry in 2019.

The forest industry includes:

  • nurseries
  • planting and tree maintenance
  • harvesters
  • sawmillers
  • wood treatment operators.

A plan to achieve workforce goals

The sector is facing a number of workforce challenges. We can achieve our goals by working together and building on initiatives already underway and starting some new projects.

The Forestry and Wood Processing Workforce Council will oversee the action plan. But all parts of the industry need to be involved in making the plan happen.

The council will work with the Food and Fibre Skills Establishment Group. This group is working on the Food and fibre skills action plan. Together, they'll look at workforce actions that benefit all primary sector industries.

Forestry and wood processing workforce action plan 2020-2024 [PDF, 3.5 MB]

Summary of the action plan 2020-2024 [PDF, 464 KB]

The Forestry and Wood Processing Workforce Working Group

To ensure the forestry and wood processing sector has the workforce it needs now and in the future, Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service formed the Forestry and Wood Processing Workforce Working Group. This group of industry leaders is helping us formulate a plan of action to attract, train, and retain the skilled workforce the forestry and wood processing sector needs.

The role of the working group

The working group was formed to develop a workforce action plan for the forestry and wood processing sector.

The working group members

The working group is chaired by MPI, who also provides secretariat support. The working group is made up of industry organisations and government agencies with interest and expertise in forestry and wood processing sector skills. The members include:

  • Sharon Cox, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
  • Alfred Duval, Future Foresters
  • David Evison, School of Forestry, University of Canterbury and New Zealand Institute of Forestry
  • Ruth Fairhall, (chair, May to August 2019), Te Uru Rākau – New Zealand Forest Service
  • Fraser Field, Rayonier Matariki Forests
  • Jivan Grewal, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment
  • Jeff Ilott, New Zealand Timber Industry Federation
  • Richard Lynch, Ministry for Primary Industries
  • Glen Mackie, New Zealand Forest Owners Association
  • Mark Preece, Competenz
  • Antonia Reid, (chair, September to December 2019), Ministry for Primary Industries
  • Thea Wallace, Ministry for Primary Industries
  • Prue Younger, Forest Industry Contractors Association

Teacher resources

MPI publishes or funds teacher resources and classroom activities each year. These focus on the primary industries, biosecurity, and food safety. We put together sets of learning activities that teachers can use for subjects like mathematics, science, social studies, and technology.

Last reviewed: