Women In Horticulture – Agribusiness offers job security

Oct 21, 2021

This article was first published in the August 2021 issue of The Orchardist.

Words by Elaine Fisher

“New Zealand has the fabulous advantage of producing the kind of food consumers want to eat.”

“Women who approach their career path correctly will be paid as much as men.”

Those employed in New Zealand’s agriculture and horticulture sectors will never have to worry about jobs, so long as they keep up with industry innovations, says Deb Francis, principal of AgRecruit.

“Technology is changing the sector quickly but so long as people, no matter their age, are keeping up their learning and understanding, they will always have work,” says Deb who founded the recruitment company AgRecruit 14 years ago. She is also a member of Women in Horticulture.

Thanks to technology, future jobs may be more specialised, pay more and involve less hours worked. “For example, someone who has been picking apples may be trained to operate a machine which does that role instead. They will become highly skilled, possibly work 30 hours a week and earn more. Or they might learn to be a drone pilot, which takes almost as much skill as flying a helicopter.

“Even now, there are so many options that young people completing an appropriate degree can decide which direction to point their career based on their skills and interests and the sustainability of that career path.”

Deb says agriculture and horticulture has again proved its sustainability and significance to national and local economies with most sectors continuing to perform well despite the impacts of Covid-19.

“The future is bright as New Zealand has the fabulous advantage of producing the kind of food consumers want to eat. We have to produce high value food because we are at the other end of the world. We are doing that by meeting new compliance standards and using technology, including precision farming techniques for the application of inputs and irrigation.”

Deb’s own career path is evidence of the diverse opportunities the primary sector offers those willing to take them up. She grew up on a Southland sheep and beef farm, attended boarding school, followed by university in Dunedin before buying a sheep and beef farm with her “townie” husband Brent.

It was then that Deb began from scratch, founding what was to become New Zealand’s largest peony rose exporting company at the time, MagnaFlora.

“I employed up to 30 staff at times and had two 60m2 tunnel houses growing French tulips as well. We also grew Dutch iris. That was my business, and Brent ran the farm.”

Eventually the couple leased out the farm and moved to Christchurch where Deb discovered, almost by accident, her talent for recruiting.

“I attended a job interview with a recruitment agency for a different role and was asked to join their team. I ended up recruiting engineers. Then I fell into agribusiness recruiting almost by accident, because I had an agricultural background and had learned about agribusiness from starting my own flower growing and exporting business.”

Deb later went on to found AgRecruit in 2007 with business partner Alwyn Coll. Today its focus is still across the primary sector, recruiting graduates and staff at senior levels.

“We do it quite differently. We have just a few clients who we work very closely with to understand their business, so we know who will be a good fit for their teams. We talk to people at very senior levels, often including their boards and develop a high level of mutual trust.

“When it comes to recruiting staff, we spend between two to six hours with a potential recruit to be sure they are the best match. I am risk adverse because the biggest disaster can be placing the wrong person in a role. That can wreck their career, cost the company a fortune, and damage its reputation; so, I’m passionate about getting it right for everyone every single time.”

 Deb doesn’t believe there is widespread disparity in remuneration between men and women working in primary industries.

“Agribusiness has been male dominated but that is changing with women increasingly appointed to senior roles. Women who approach their career path correctly will be paid as much as men. I see that regularly.”

To keep up to date with Women in Horticulture news and activities, join the membership database by emailing info@women-in-hort.nz everyone is welcome.