For the last five years he’s been guiding tourists around Te Anau’s glow-worm caves. Now he’s helping to milk 550 cows on Chris Mexted’s dairy farm at Awakaponga, Bay of Plenty.
The 23-year-old is the first recipient of the Farm-Starter Kit, a national initiative by Federated Farmers and the Ministry of Social Development to help people made jobless by Covid-19 disruption to get into work in agriculture.
The new workers get a comprehensive all-weather clothing kit supplied by New Zealand firm Kaiwaka, and the employer gets a Federated Farmers employment contract, recognised as industry best.
Thomas’s partner is from the Whakatane area and when they moved north he says it was always the plan for him to find another job in tourism, or get onto a farm. “Then the whole Covid thing happened and it made the decision really easy.”
Thomas grew up on a dairy farm in the deep south until the age of 12 and had taken agriculture as a subject at high school. But tourism was big in Te Anau and he took that path when entering the workforce.
“In the glow worm caves my shift went through to midnight. Now I’ve got the early morning starts on the dairy farm, so it’s been a pretty big sleep cycle switch.”
He’s rapt with the Kaiwaka kit and rates his new boss Chris, and co-worker Patrick, as “pretty damn good”.
“There is lots to learn but I’ve got some good teachers.”
Thomas says he intends getting to the other side of next summer and then will look at taking up a Federated Farmers dairy apprenticeship.
Chris Mexted says he needed extra help on the farm and heard on the radio that the Government was keen to fill agriculture workforce gaps with Kiwis laid off during the pandemic lockdown. The Feds/MSD Farmer Start programme was just what he needed for Thomas.
“The (clothing) kit is awesome, both in the amount of stuff the worker gets and its quality. It’s got everything they need, certainly in their first year.”
The Federated Farmers employment contract is “very well thought out and easy. Both parties know exactly what they’re in for.”
Chris says Thomas is working out well.
“You wouldn’t think it because they’re such different industries, but there’s lots of skills from tourism that he brings to the table. And he’s intelligent and wants to be here.”
Since the launch about a month ago, 27 Farm-Starter Kits (one arable, three sheep & beef and the rest dairy) have been sent to workers new to farms, and many more are in the pipeline.
The programme is exclusive to Federated Farmers members, but an employer can join Federated Farmers and receive the $1,800 kit and contract at no charge.