Cohort-based apprentice programme reaps success

Norwood is one of New Zealand’s largest equipment suppliers and repairers for the farming industry. They have 26 retail locations across New Zealand and are continuing to grow. Accordingly, their apprentice training programme, that began in 2020, ensures an ongoing pipeline of qualified technicians to repair and service their agricultural machinery.

Key to the success of this programme is their Apprentice Programme Manager, Len Richards. “I joined Norwood in 2014 as a Regional After Sales Manager in Taranaki. In our area we had about 15 apprentices. Others in the organisation wanted to know why we were so successful in getting them through their training. Norwood wanted this success to be replicated around the country, so they created this role for me. I am really passionate about apprentices and their journey, so this was a great fit for me.”

Norwood’s goal was to create a centralised apprenticeship training programme. “When I first joined Norwood, we had a very ad hoc apprenticeship system in place. All the dealerships would take on apprentices when they were needed throughout the year. We wanted the apprenticeship training to have an annual intake and everyone starting at the same time.”

They have 22 apprentices in their current cohort and completing a range of MITO qualifications.

Norwood's apprentice cohort at their training school in Palmerston North

In addition, Norwood opened their own dedicated training facility in Palmerston North in 2021 which provides specific training on their products.

“We have an awesome team of technical service people that are absolute stars when it comes to repairing tractors. They help us develop very focused training on our products using our diagnostics equipment and technical strategies. Having the training so focused on our equipment allows the apprentices to become productive a lot quicker.”

Norwood’s mentor programme is another aspect that reaps rewards. This programme partners an apprentice with a mentor either for a few months or years depending on their level, age, and skills.  Philippa Dawe, Norwood’s Executive Leader Customer Relationships speaks high praise of this programme. “It is really about developing leaders on the ground. Our apprenticeship programme has two streams, one is training our apprentices on the job and the other is training the mentors to be leaders. It is a super cool thing - mentors get to develop their leadership capability while they are given duty of care of these apprentices.”

When Norwood were developing their apprentice training programme, they were able get great support from Terra Cat right from the start of the project. Len says this was an integral part in helping Norwood create such a successful programme now. “Terra Cat have their own apprentice training programme, so they were very generous with their knowledge and tips they shared with us. We are very grateful for their input in the beginning.”

Norwood’s 2022 cohort of apprentices range from the ages of 17 to 34 with a mix of both males and females. Len has noticed a rise in diversity, “currently out of the fourteen parts apprentices we have, six who are women. We have three women working on the workshop floor – two doing Agricultural Equipment and one doing Outdoor Power Equipment. We also have several women doing the First line Management and NZ Diploma in Business.” Philippa has also noticed this at the business wide level. “Having more centralised support for the regional teams around apprentices has allowed us to bring a more diverse group of people into the programme and into Norwood.”

As Len has worked with apprentices for many years, his number one tip for anyone looking for an apprenticeship or a job is to have the right attitude. “You can teach technical skills as long as someone is open to learning, but you can’t teach the right attitude.” Philippa adds, “You can be taught skills by experts around you but having the drive to learn and being part of a team is essential for any job.”

The agricultural side of the industry is ever evolving, and Len says one of the biggest changes is the technology. “Out of all the heavy qualifications, agricultural would have the most technology and cool toys to play with. We have lots of massive tractors with heaps of technology and then even more equipment for the back of the tractor. If anyone is into the latest technologies, then working in agriculture is a great fit.”

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