Creating a life outside the wire in horticulture

20 Jun 2017

Horticulture New Zealand national seasonal labour coordinator Jerf van Beek today told a breakfast function in Wellington, hosted by Corrections Minister Louise Upston and the Corrections Department, about the rewards of helping former offenders into permanent work.

In July last year, Horticulture New Zealand signed a memorandum of understanding with Corrections to enable Hawke’s Bay growers to employ people coming out of Hawke’s Bay Regional Prison.

“In addition to working for Horticulture New Zealand, I’m a Hawke’s Bay cherry grower who, with my wife and a group of mates, have volunteered to help at the local Hawke’s Bay prison for the past 13 years,” van Beek says. “I have often thought that the men I met in prison would make great employees in the horticulture industry. To cut a long story short, the opportunity to do this came up last year. With Horticulture New Zealand’s backing we have been able to work with Corrections on a process of training inside and outside the wire to achieve a robust employment experience.

“This means, that by the time a person leaves prison to trial work in horticulture, they have had all the pre-training they need and have a good understanding of the work they will be asked to do and the language and terminology used at their place of work. This is incredibly important for people who might have not had all the opportunities in life that many of us have had. A barrier to them staying in work is if they turn up on day one and feel like they are stupid or that they can’t contribute. With this scheme, they turn up on day one and can start to feel like they are part of the work family because they know what is going on.”

Also speaking at the breakfast was one of van Beek’s former employees who has worked his way into a permanent job with another grower in Hawke’s Bay, since being released from prison in August last year.

“There are many benefits with this scheme and from the perspective of the employer, we get people who want to work and who start the first day with some skills,” van Beek says.

Horticulture New Zealand chief executive Mike Chapman says growers want to employ New Zealanders first and participate in a number of government schemes to get unemployed Kiwis into work.

“Horticulture is a growing rapidly and we are keen to participate in any initiative that gives us access to stable, permanent employees who want to learn new skills and be part of a thriving industry for years to come.”