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A young person's view on working in the primary industries

16 Nov 2016

Being told it would be “a waste of my intelligence” didn’t stop Brigitte Ravera from pursuing a job in the primary industries and she is very pleased she did.    

She was one of four young people who recounted their career journeys in the primary industries during a well-received session at the 2016 CATE Conference. The three-day event for Careers Advisers and Transition Educators was held in Hamilton in November, with a “pasture to plate” theme.

Conference delegates have been “very positive” about the GrowingNZ session says CATE National President, Jane Thomas. “They certainly did the primary industries proud with their presentations.”

Andy Somerville of GrowingNZ says it was a great opportunity to prove that talented students should be looking at the primary industries. “The four presenters were students who had a lot of choices available. They now have rewarding careers in the primary industries, and there are plenty like them!”

Three of the four panellists during the GrowingNZ session told the audience they received sufficient scholarships while studying to come away with money in the bank.


Tom Woutersen received around $25,000 in scholarships and completed three summer internships while studying for a science degree majoring in agriscience. “It has opened a lot of doors for me,” he said.

He gained a graduate role with Westpac, became an analyst and then took a relationship management role. He is the bank’s point of contact for 30 farm businesses, with a portfolio of more than $100 million in lending.

“This is a great role where we get to help people to achieve their farming goals, work with a great team and also get paid well to do it,” he said.

The 26-year-old advised that students should build networks and relationships, view a job as an opportunity, and keep learning.”

Nadine Huitema explained that she didn’t even know the job animal nutritionist existed when she was at school. As a student with interests in science and business, she came “close” to going into medicine but then realised “agriculture is where the jobs are”.

She said a breakthrough moment early on was realising that to do a google search for science roles she should include the word “technical… Then you get lots of hits.”

She studied general science, completing a Masters degree with a focus on dairy goat science. Now working for PGG Wrightson, she describes her job as “a dietician for animals”. She admitted it can be “nerdy”, showing a diet balancing table.

The 29-year-old’s work includes running training sessions for farmers and the company’s field reps. “Your technical skills may get you in the door, but I believe the people skills are more important once you are there,” she said.

She gets out and about, working across the North Island. She recently enjoyed travelling to Italy for professional development, looking into sheep and goat milking.

She advised students to regard “every idea as potentially a good idea”.

At an urban private girls’ school, teachers actively discouraged Brigitte Ravera from pursuing a career related to agriculture. She dutifully considered medicine, but as a kid who “wanted to be a farmer since I was three” that was where her heart was.

Some teachers did not hold back from sharing strongly negative views. “One said I would be throwing away the opportunities my parents had given me and another said it would be a waste of my intelligence. Luckily we had an enlightened careers adviser who could see where agriculture could take me.”

She completed a Honours degree in Agricultural Science and got the opportunity to spend 10 months at Cornell University.

The 23-year-old describes her role with DairyNZ as a consulting officer for 600 farms in New Zealand’s largest industry as “awesome”.

“A big part of the job is running farmer discussion groups… It’s a cooperative industry so the aim is for everyone to do well. We come up with solutions for how they can be more profitable and sustainable and so on. My role is not to tell but to facilitate.”

As an outdoors person keen on hunting, tramping and mountain biking, Angus McKenzie stumbled upon forestry management at a careers expo and realised it would be a good match.

He is frustrated by how little New Zealanders know about what happens in the forestry industry. “People tend to think it’s just about cutting down trees.”

He gave an overview of forestry in New Zealand that showed a diversity of roles, including liaising with landowners about plantings right through to forest management and marketing. An emerging new area of expertise is the use of forestry-specific software to improve efficiency of tree growth, for engineering and spatial mapping.

His own role with consulting firm PF Olsen involves managing the harvesting operations – “which is a form of project management… Typically, it’s 28 years from seedling to harvest and you only get one shot so it has to be done right.” He manages each step of the harvest process, including developing harvest plans, road engineering and contractor management.

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GrowingNZ speakers at the CATE Conference (from left): Angus McKenzie - a harvest manager for PF Olsen, Brigitte Ravera - a consulting officer with DairyNZ, Tom Woutersen - an agribusiness manager for Westpac, and Nadine Huitema - an animal nutritionist with PGG Wrightson.