Need a career change? Come and shear sheep in New Zealand!

Photo credit: Design: Backpacker Jobs

Yes, New Zealand does have a lot of sheep. It also used to have lots shearers, but, due to the beckoning whispers of the big cities, and from our neighbours across the ditch, these numbers are slowly dwindling, leaving shearing gangs unable to keep up with demand.

Unless you were brought up in New Zealand, or your dad happened to be a shearer, shearing probably seems like quite an unusual profession to aim for straight off the bat. Historically though, shearing was promoted in New Zealand as the job for a fit, keen, young person to get out, travel and work nationally and globally, and make really good money from an early age.

Many moons ago, the wool and sheep industry had been promoted by farmer-funded organisations which did a huge amount of work in training shearers and woolhandlers, they also promoted the workplace and maintained the profile of the wool industry. However, the influx of dairy farm conversions over the past 10 years has seen the enthusiasm for the wool industry slowly fizzle out, leaving the wool industry no option but to source overseas staff.

Most contractors around New Zealand have been 10-15 per cent down on staff, meaning that they are getting to some six-stand sheds with only five shearers and bigger eight-stand sheds with only six, resulting in delays which have compounded throughout the season. Some have commented they would have had to “shut up shop” if it wasn’t for their imported workers from the UK.

The lack of interest from young people in New Zealand has been attributed to three “could-be” explanations. The first is the rural-urban divide: think Montague and Capulet. The fragmentation of industry training and the lack of promotion of the wool industry impacted negatively on the number of new people entering the industry from urban areas, which consequently widened the urban-rural divide. It is hardly a Crips and Bloods scenario but more of a personal rivalry for superiority to your opposing profession.

The second explanation has been put down to a noticeable decrease in the number of good shearers, wool handlers, and pressers available to teach our young people the trade. Due to the high demand in Europe, shearers have been leaving in droves for the shorter days, free weekends and travel opportunities.

Last but not least, is the “Generation Snowflake” theory. There has been a certain amount of resistance among young people to enter a profession that involved hard, physical work such as shearing, and woolshed workplace conditions and facilities were, at times, below the standard that employees look for today. The job could be tough and the days long, and often there was considerable travelling involved.

Disclaimer: This is not the opinion of Backpacker Jobs – Just a theory that was worth sharing. Please direct angry responses to [email protected]

Hopefully in the future, we will see more Kiwi whippersnappers taking on the role; there are no lengthy apprenticeships or training periods which is great for people who prefer to make money while they embark on hands-on training. Shearers with more than three years’ experience usually earn $50K-$100K per year, which is not to be sniffed at.

Until then, their loss is every overseas shearers’ gain. There is plenty of work available all year round in New Zealand. There are opportunities nationwide which allows sightseeing, living in the most beautiful country on the planet, making as much money as your body will allow, and hanging out with some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.

Jobs, New Zealand

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