Agribusiness programme opens the door to many career options

Issue: Volume 98, Number 6

Posted: 9 April 2019
Reference #: 1H9suh

For many senior students, making career choices are hard decisions if they don’t have clear goals in mind. But a new NCEA achievement standards programme offers a comprehensive information base for choosing a career path in fields they may not have considered before.

A new NCEA achievement standards programme in Agribusiness is aimed at students interested in emerging careers in science, technology and business. 

The curriculum has been created by St Paul’s Collegiate in Hamilton, in partnership with 10 other schools around the country, and is available for all New Zealand schools to use. St Paul’s Deputy Principal and Programme Director Peter Hampton says it is flexible and has applications beyond agriculture.

“The programme can be applied to any career pathway sector from fishing to tourism, to help students know all about the field they’re entering. So it can be used by central North Island schools in forestry areas, for example, or students in Nelson could take standards on fishing or aquaculture.

“The main focus is jobs and careers, and that’s the bottom line. There is a multitude of resources available freely for teachers, wherever their school is located. It’s not just academic content, it also includes stories, and pathways and careers information.”

Over 100 schools are now teaching Agribusiness or assessing some of the standards at NCEA Level 2 or 3 or both. The target is 200 by 2021.

The Agribusiness programme won the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Leading Change last year, and was recently a finalist for an international award that highlights exceptional initiatives by schools around the globe.

Tailored options

Individual elements of the programme can be used on their own, chosen from any of the seven new standards that have been added to the Business Studies domain. 

For example, accounting students could be assessed using standard 91868 (Level 2) Demonstrate understanding of cash flow forecasting for, say, a crayfishing business. For science students, standard 91866 (Level 2) Conduct an inquiry into the use of organisms to meet future needs, could be an option.

Feilding High School has many agriculture-based subjects and is using standard 91865, requiring an understanding of future proofing, for its Level 2 curriculum. Teacher in charge Kate Redpath says it encourages students to think about future challenges so that New Zealand can stay ahead of the game.

As yet, there are no external NCEA examinations specifically for Agribusiness, and the standards need to be combined with standards from other domains such as Biology or Business Studies, to make up a full programme of, say, 18 credits.  Standards at Level 3 can be used with Business Studies standards to gain University Entrance.

Students wishing to get subject endorsement would need to sit at least one external.

“In the past, schools have found it hard to connect with businesses,” Peter says. “We give schools local contacts and help them make those connections. It definitely is up to the schools to bridge the gap, but we find businesses are keen to help and be involved. The standards can be delivered in a variety of contexts, right through the primary industries.”

Professional development part of package

St Paul's Collegiate teacher Kerry Allen with student Ben McColgan. Students study the potential of products such as kiwifruit as part of the Agribusiness programme.

St Paul’s has a full-time advisor and provides all the teaching material, including assessments for achievement standards. The material includes work plans, video and other content. The achievement standards and a teaching and learning guide are available to all schools on Te Kete Ipurangi (TKI).

The new curriculum reflects the changing world, Peter says. “Ag and Hort Science goes to the farm gate and stops there but Agribusiness goes down throughout the value chain. It goes to the plate.” 

Professional development assistance for teachers is also available on the Agribusiness website. Peter says with the world changing so fast, teachers need to become learners too. “They need to upskill in new areas, develop their skills. Just because you are a maths teacher doesn’t mean you can’t stretch to another area, particularly those which have a maths component.”

What students think 

St Paul’s Collegiate students go on site visits to farms and processing sites, but also to other relevant workplaces. 

Year 13 student Madeleine Dickie says speaking to many people in the industry has given her an insight into what they did every day, and how they got there. “This field is varied and diverse, and has lots of opportunities. Whether you’re a big picture person, or interested in, say, stats or marketing, there’s something for you.”

“My advice to anyone unsure about a career path is to write down what your strengths and your interests are – and all the things you enjoy doing. Then match those key things with a learning path you can follow. You will find your niche.”

Student Jana Stokes says, “Our programme is not dusty and dry. It’s real. We get our hands dirty and work on really interesting areas that are relevant to real life today.”

She and fellow students recently conducted an inquiry on dung beetles, to research ways of recycling manure. Last year they studied the brown marmorated stink bug, and what its impacts would be on the horticulture industry and the economy. Jana says, “Just months later, the threat posed by the stink bug was a huge media story. When it appeared in the news our reaction was, ‘We know all about that already!’”

Daniel Pearse says he spent four days with Rabobank, visiting dairy farms, talking to vets, share milkers and other key groups, and the major player in the export side of the sector, Fonterra. “That was very useful. I found out I didn’t want to be in those areas. Crossing off boxes to clarify your final goal is actually important in making a final choice. My interest is in the finance side.”


Students from John McGlashan College and Columba College carrying out investigative work.

Otago schools partner up to combine strengths

Two Dunedin schools are collaborating to support students to study towards future careers in Agribusiness. The partnership is unique and sees Years 12 and 13 students from John McGlashan College and Columba College travel between the two campuses to attend classes.

By joining forces, the two schools utilise their different strengths. At Columba, Suzanne Bishop teaches the commerce component, and at John McGlashan, Dr Craig Preston teaches the agri-science and innovation.

As part of their studies, the 2018 students got the chance to examine close-up how a winery works as a business. 

Each Year 13 student has a mentor, from fields such as science, marketing, agritourism, event management, logistics and banking, and the qualification they can attain is a Certificate of Excellence in Agribusiness, the only one of its kind in the country.

Columba College’s Head of Commerce Suzanne Bishop says, “The learning is highly contextualised, but entry standards are high and students need a Merit to gain entry. 

“They go on field trips where they get practical experience of work and business environments – so they can see, feel and touch them.”

Last year the students spent three days at Mt Difficulty Winery in Central Otago, where they learnt of the challenges of running, maintaining and growing a highly successful business. 

Dunedin Agribusiness students visit Mount Difficulty Wines in Central Otago.

Dr Craig Preston, Director of Agribusiness at John McGlashan College, says, “These experiences integrate theory and practice, and let the students taste businesses in a real-life context.”

The next step may be tertiary study, or another path such as moving directly into a job or career. Suzanne says, “We make sure they understand the options, and we’ve had outstanding support from our community in making informed choices. Mentors are very keen to step up and help with things such as arranging to go to visit worksites for a day. If I approached a business, they would invariably say yes, they will be a mentor.”

Dr Preston says, “There are so many resources for help if you reach out, so many offers of help. We also have excellent relationships with tertiary institutions, the universities and polytechs.”

John McGlashan College student Jack says he chose Agribusiness because of the huge range of occupations that the agricultural industry offers. “From the science side to the business and innovation side, all of these categories interest me. However I would like to improve my knowledge on the business side to expand my opportunities.”

Fellow student Sam: “It’s a cool up-and-coming topic that will be essential in the future and I like the commerce side of it, which is what I might study at university.” 

Students Georgia Burke and Logan Spaans with beekeeper Chris Foot examining honey from a hive.

What is Agribusiness?

Agribusiness focuses on what is needed to take a product successfully to market. So as well as producing a commodity such as meat, cheese, wine or honey, it examines how to develop it, pack it, market it and transport it all the way to the consumer’s plate, be it in New Zealand or, more likely, overseas markets. It also focuses on innovation, adding value to products and future proofing Agribusinesses.

The programme began two years ago. It is offered at NCEA Levels 2 and 3 and has been designed for students who excel in science and commerce.

It is taught under four strands:

  • Agri-science
  • Agri-marketing
  • Agri-management and finance
  • Agri-innovation.

“Agribusiness has a massive future. Food is our top export. It’s an exciting field with real life relevance. And there are 45,000 jobs out there waiting for graduates,” Peter Hampton says.

At St Paul’s, Agribusiness is the third biggest subject of study, and 40 per cent of the students are female. 105 students are studying at Level 2 and 3, out of a total roll of 750. 

Peter says, “We have strong connections to the tertiary sector and to individual organisations, such as Massey University”. Last year 27 Agribusiness students went on to study Agribusiness at a university throughout New Zealand. 

The most important goal, he says, is to teach the students the importance of adding value to a product. For example, processing a carcass into fine cuts of meat that will sell for a lot more than the frozen carcass would fetch. 

“Through adding value, a $9 per kg piece of steak can increase in value to, say, a $55 per kg piece of biltong.”

For some young people, he says, their career choice is easier, if their parents have worked in a particular field or sector, so there is familiarity with what is involved. But for students with no prior knowledge of the field, they need to find out whether that field would be a good career choice. 

“Often, though, students will know agriculture – perhaps because they are from a farming family – but they don’t know all the sectors and the financial side of things. They need to know both, so we teach them both, which is vital for any successful business.”

The lead schools in the Agribusiness community of learning Kāhui Ako were St Paul's Collegiate School (Waikato), Mt Albert Grammar (Auckland), Feilding High School (Manawatu), Lindisfarne College (Hawke’s Bay), New Plymouth Boys’ High School (Taranaki), Christchurch Boys’ High School (Canterbury), Columba College (Otago), John McGlashan College (Otago), Southland Boys’ and Southland Girls’ High Schools (Southland).

Tips for teachers

Reach out – arrange worksite visits and build links throughout the community.

Bring in the experts – invite business representatives to come to your school to speak to and connect with students. 

Upskill your teachers – teachers need to be learners too. With the world changing so fast, it’s essential to be flexible, adaptable and constantly learning. 

Collaborate with other schools to utilise different strengths.

Give students hands-on experience – let them see, feel and touch.

Hold Open Days to provide full information. 

Map the path – inform students of the next stages. 

Keep the learning relevant and contextual.

There are other practical ways to connect. Field Days are a great opportunity for students to taste agriculture. They are held around the country and last year 2,000 students from Auckland went to the Mystery Creek Fieldays in Waikato.  

For more information visit Agribusiness(external link) for schools and Facebook(external link).

Read how Queen Charlotte College in Marlborough(external link) connects students with local industry opportunities.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:00 am, 9 April 2019

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