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Norwood’s new approach to apprenticeships paying off

By taking a new approach to its apprenticeship programme, agricultural services and equipment supplier Norwood isn’t just ensuring farmers’ valuable machinery will be well-supported in years to come. It’s also succeeding in bringing a wider range of people into an exciting and vital industry.

This year’s intake of 22 apprentices is spread across 12 of Norwood’s nationwide dealerships, taking the company’s overall tally of apprentices and learners to over 70. The apprentices will complete globally recognised NZQA qualifications, while pursuing a career in parts supply, or servicing and repair of agricultural, construction, or outdoor power equipment.

The latest opportunities to ‘earn while you learn’ weren’t short of takers, with more than 240 applications received for the positions advertised late last year.

Norwood’s Apprenticeship Programme manager Len Richards isn’t surprised at the popularity.

“There is a wide range of trades available for apprenticeships, but agricultural equipment in my view is one of the most exciting. It’s full of cool machinery with a wide range of technology that is interesting and varied and can be modified depending on its use. Modern cars are quite limited in comparison to work on.”

Centralised recruitment

Norwood has always brought on apprentices; however, Len says that every dealership did it differently, with varying start times and support processes in place.

“One of our goals is to be the best after-sales support suppliers in our industry, and a great place to start is to apply a more structured approach to apprenticeships. So last year we moved to a centralised model. In partnership with each location, we now manage the recruitment for all our 25 dealerships from our National Support Office in Palmerston North.”

“Dealerships are busy enough with their day-to-day work keeping farmers moving, so we are trying to lighten their load, as well as offering the apprentices themselves a more consistent and focussed learning experience.”

Extra support

Apprentice recruitment is now done at the same time for all Norwood’s dealerships, which allows each year’s intake to go through their training in one cohort.

“This should allow the apprentices to develop good strong relationships to support them through their learning,” says Len.

“Ideally there will also be a couple of opportunities throughout the year for everyone to train together in the one place, Covid restrictions permitting.”
Support for the apprentices back in their dealerships will be provided through a new mentoring programme, where technical trainees are buddied up for up to two years with an experienced person in the workshop.

“Apprentices will really benefit from having someone qualified and experienced guiding them through their training journey.”

Improved diversity

As well as nurturing the development of young people in the agricultural industry, Norwood is also working to improve diversity in its workshops, moving away from traditional stereotypes.

Last year this got a boost through a government programme, which allowed the company to bring on additional people from the regions who had been negatively affected by COVID-19, with a particular focus on Māori and Pasifika.

“Norwood is committed to continuing to focus on diversity. In our mind an apprentice isn’t just a young male who’s aged between 17 and 19,” says Len. “For example, last year we brought in two female technical apprentices. There were also a couple of apprentices in their mid-fifties, and quite a few in their mid-thirties.”

The age range of this year’s cohort is from 17 to 34 years and encompasses a range of different cultures and nationalities.

“A wider range of personalities and life experience brings something special into the team, which helps us with our goal of improving staff retention in the long term.”

Tailored training

The apprenticeship programme is run in conjunction with MITO/Te Pūkenga. However, where possible, Norwood now delivers its own technical training and carries out their own internal assessment of Norwood apprentices on their journey towards becoming qualified tradespeople.

“In the past our apprentices would do their off-job training at a polytechnic facilitated through MITO/Te Pūkenga, but that training is very car-focussed, rather than the heavy equipment we actually work on.”

“Together with our purpose-built National Training Centre and Technical Support Team in Palmerston North, and our product specialists out in the regions, we make sure our apprentices do their training on our products using our diagnostic tools. Rather than, for example, working on a car using a scan tool that they will never see again when they’re back at the workshop.”

Len says the unit standards that make up the different qualifications, which Norwood had input into, are flexible enough to allow new technologies to be included in the training as they arise.

“This helps ensure our training remains current. For example, it is highly likely that by the time this year’s cohort complete their qualification, we will have battery-powered, and maybe even hydrogen-powered tractors in production.

The future of our industry is really exciting if you’re into new and emerging technology!”