Capability role shift to influence positive change

Apr 16, 2021

By Elaine Fisher

This article was first published in the February 2020 issue of The Orchardist.

Filling in an application for a nursing scholarship caused Emma Boase to question her planned career path and eventually led to her appointment to the new role of people capability manager at Horticulture New Zealand.

“As I was filling in the form, I realised I wanted to help build the fence at the top of the cliff by keeping people healthy, rather than being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff,” says Emma, whose new role also includes that of co-ordinator for Women in Horticulture.

That was in 2015, and although Emma could not have foreseen the appointment to her current role, her thinking was already in line with HortNZ’s vision “Oranga kai, oranga tangata, haere ake nei – Healthy food for all, forever”.

“I attended a high school which did not offer agricultural or horticultural courses, but I was interested in people, health and nutrition so thought nursing was the career for me. However, when I thought about it more, I realised working in food production offered me a way to apply these interests and passions in a variety of ways.

“Not only does it help maintain and progress rural communities, but it also provides sustainable, nutritional food for people’s health and well-being, reducing the impacts of obesity and other illnesses.”

So Emma attended Lincoln University, completing a Bachelor of Agribusiness and Food Marketing followed by a Masters in Agricultural and Applied Economics at the University of Missouri, USA. Her Master’s research in food marketing and consumer behaviour received the Outstanding Student Paper Award at the 2019 International Food Marketing Research Symposium. Emma’s research explored how claims made on food packaging labels can lead consumers to perceive other attributes in the same product differently, which she called a “halo effect”.

Back in New Zealand to consider her future direction, Emma took up the role of horticulture industry engagement coordinator at Massey University. Massey is home to the only Horticulture science degree programme in New Zealand, and ensuring its success is a key goal. “There is an awesome team at Massey who are passionate about horticulture and linked in with industry in everything they do. The aim is to highlight horticulture (to students) as the industry to be in when they graduate. Integrating aspects of industry through guest lectures, workshops, study tours, scholarship support, and extracurricular activities helps students see these opportunities.”

One of the programmes Emma helped to support with the leadership of Professor Hamish Gow was IHIP (International Horticulture Immersion Programme) piloted in June 2019 with support from AGMARDT (The Agricultural & Marketing Research & Development Trust), NZAPI (New Zealand
Apples & Pears Inc.), and Zespri.

In January 2020 Emma left for Europe to pursue a PhD in Denmark. “However, as Covid-19 lockdowns continued I decided that doing three years of research with that level of uncertainty was not what I wanted, so I returned to New Zealand in June, spending two weeks in isolation.”

Delighted to be back in New Zealand and fresh from enjoying camping in Northland during the summer break, Emma is excited about the opportunities and challenges of her new role with HortNZ.

“Capability is an unbounded space with lots of opportunities and projects on the go already. Covid has magnified the need to focus on encouraging New Zealanders into the horticultural industry and we need to find innovative ways to sustain permanent jobs for New Zealanders in horticulture as well as fill seasonal positions. “I find it incredibly rewarding to empower people to make the connection between the fruit and vegetables on their plate, and where they are grown and the industry they come from.

“Once people make the link between providing people with fresh, healthy food and a career in horticulture, they start thinking about working in the horticulture industry differently. Being able to relate the food that you interact with every day to a dynamic and innovative industry is really cool.”

As the new people capability manager for HortNZ, Emma will be supporting and coordinating the established nationwide network of career progression managers.

“The horticulture industry has already been working on creating innovative ways to meet seasonal labour needs, while making sure that long-term attraction campaigns get people into permanent careers,” says Emma.

“A big issue that the industry is working to address is perception. We need young people, their teachers, mentors, influencers and parents to be more aware of the diverse range of careers out there in the industry and show them that they can have a bright future in horticulture.”

Retaining people in the industry requires a change in focus from traditional employment perceptions. “Showing people they are valued is important, as is attracting people who share the employer’s vision and purpose so they want to show up, even on rough days.

“It’s particularly important to pay attention to the newest employees, as someone’s first job or experience often sets strong preferences for the rest of their career.”

Emma says today’s young people (referred to as Generation Z – or the Zoomers) have unlimited access to information through technology. “Today’s bright young things can learn what they want, when they want and if they are sceptical about something, they can research it and form an opinion in five minutes. We’re looking at new ways to connect with people both digitally and in-person to shape positive opinions and encourage careers in horticulture.

“For them the workplace is a place of connection, certainly where they get paid, but the research says Gen Z want more from their career. They and their employer need to understand the ‘why’ of working in that business. If they are not feeling it, and feeling valued, they will likely move.”

Emma’s role includes advocacy and policy work, liaising with the Ministry for Primary Industries, Ministry of Social Development and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

In her role with Women In Horticulture, Emma will assist with planning for a session at the 2021 HortNZ conference; building regional support and networks and helping the organisation achieve its vision of “an innovative and collaborative industry that empowers women at all levels”, and to “foster an environment that encourages and recognises women’s participation from entry level to leadership roles in horticulture”.

Further developing inclusion within the horticultural industry is also part of Emma’s job description which includes supporting and amplifying Māori and Pasifika programmes. “True diversity and inclusion allows organisations to have a myriad of experiences coming to the table. This in turn allows for decisions to be made with an increased breadth and depth of knowledge allowing for a more resilient, adaptive, and connected operation.”

Diverse and challenging as her new role is, Emma is excited about the opportunities to effect positive change within the industry and people’s lives.