As the dairy sector grows to meet export targets and future dairy products safety requirements become more complex, specific vulnerabilities across the dairy industry could become more evident, according to the report from the Dairy Capability Working Group.
“This is partly a capacity issue – appropriately skilled people are thinly stretched across the sector and the job market for qualified and experienced staff is competitive,” the report says. “It is also a capability issue based on the growing demands of consumers and more diverse and complex products.”
The Dairy Capability Working group (the Working Group) is comprised of representatives from the dairy industry, government, education organizations and verifiers from New Zealand, and it was convened by the director-general of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) in 2014.
Expertise shortage across dairy industry
Dairy processors, dairy farmers and farm input suppliers have the greatest impact on the dairy sector, and they can draw overall change in food safety, the report says.
However, within the dairy farm and farm input supplier arena, there are general labor shortages, particularly for skilled on-farm roles.
“Dairy cattle farmers are currently on Immigration New Zealand’s immediate skill shortage list,” the report says.
In fact, due to the challenge of identifying people with the right mix of technical, leadership and management skills, certain senior roles in dairy processing, regulation, and verification with a food safety focus can be difficult to fill as well, according to the report.
“[Among dairy processors] some specialists in areas, such as toxicology and microbiology, are in short supply in New Zealand… [Among verification agencies], recruiting and retaining people with the appropriate depth and breadth of knowledge and experience, particularly dairy expertise, is becoming more challenging.”
In the report, dairy industry stakeholders share their concerns about MPI’s ability to maintain and develop competency levels to meet future needs, because MPI requires a range of technical qualifications in areas, such as engineering, biotechnology, food science, microbiology, toxicology, veterinary medicine and risk management.
“Finding the right blend of technical and wider skill sets poses similar challenges to those found elsewhere in the sector. Building experience and capacity will be a key focus as MPI looks to future requirements,” the report suggests.
Recommendations to implement immediately
In the report, the Working Group suggested New Zealand’s dairy industry provide food safety education and training opportunities for those throughout the dairy supply chain, as well as cultivating a strong safety culture among all the leadership roles.
On top of that, the Working Group also listed three recommendations that should be implemented immediately by the dairy sector bodies, education organizations and government, according to Deborah Roche, deputy director-general of Policy and Trade for MPI.
Three recommendations include developing voluntary guidelines on food safety governance for board directors, establishing a dairy food safety excellence awards scheme, and developing a targeted program of secondments between MPI and industry.
The emphasis of the report is not so much on technical and specialized food safety qualifications, Roche explained.
Instead, it’s more about accessibility and awareness of training, “to ensure that food safety is seen as a component of education and training for wider roles with a food safety application, including leadership and non-specialized roles.”
Roche added implementation of agreed recommendations will commence in 2016 and progress will be monitored on a regular basis.
“Dairy sector leadership will play an important part in ensuring the recommendations can make a real impact on future dairy food safety capabilities and MPI is working closely with them to take agreed recommendations forward,” Roche said.