Mr Apple and Primary ITO

April 2017

Mr Apple is one of New Zealand’s largest pipfruit companies, exporting to over 50 countries. It is a vertically integrated operation that grows, packs, stores and exports pipfruit.

Mr Apple has half of its 300 permanent staff in training programmes, many of whom are training through the Primary ITO (Industry Training Organisation). Mr Apple is one of the top 10 employers nationally supporting and using Primary ITO for its training in an industry that is growing rapidly, with a resulting need for more highly qualified workers and opportunities for career advancement.

Rachelle Hayes is the HR Manager at Mr Apple. Rachelle says, “We are absolutely committed to developing our people. Training our staff results in more motivated and knowledgeable employees who are more engaged in their work.”

Those doing three year courses are particularly engaged, she says. Entering into training also opens up more opportunities for staff, who can then plan a career pathway.

“We need people coming through as foremen and managers in future. The only way for us to keep growing is by training staff. We have to grow our people.”

Of the 150 permanent staff currently in training, 114 are doing a range of courses through the Primary ITO, a mix of Level 1, 2 and some Level 3 training.

The benefits for the company is to have an engaged and motivated workforce, and more skilled employees. Turnover is reduced as staff are retained and want to stay in the industry.

Career pathways are created, and there are more opportunities for internal promotion within the company.

“We are highly focussed on upskilling staff so we can internally promote them,” she says.

“About six staff here are currently enrolled in either the Level 2 certificate or the Level 3 certificate. We are just trialling that to see how those one year programmes go.”

This is a good way for staff to build their theoretical knowledge of growing apples, she says.

And this year for the first time they’ve had a two-week boot camp, which is a pre-employment course, based at the orchard.

Primary ITO:

Sharon Fowler is a Training Advisor from Primary ITO. She says Mr Apple employees are doing the full range of training from Level 1 National Certificate in Horticulture for the RSE staff, through to National Certificates at Levels 2, 3 and 4 for their permanent staff. Levels 2 and 3 are on-the-job training only, while Level 4 includes class days.

If staff complete their training, they come out with a National Certificate in Horticulture (Fruit Production, Advanced) which is the top qualification.

A key link in this system is the support from the workplace assessors, and Mr Apple has at least one assessor on each of their 14 or so orchards. One assessor at each site is essential.

Levels 1-3 training has been in place for two years now, previously there was just the Level 4 apprenticeship.

Thornton Orchard is the first orchard to get all their permanent staff with a qualification, which is a considerable achievement. At Thornton, the ambition is that everyone on the team has skills and a qualification.

Hopefully the whole industry one day will be like that and it will be seen as a highly skilled industry, which should bring more people into it. “We always need more highly trained staff.”

We are extremely lucky to be working with Mr Apple, says Sharon. And we are just starting to work with them on packhouse qualifications as well. Mr Apple are really embracing training throughout their organisation.

They are also part of the Seed programme which is supported by WINZ where a large number of people come from WINZ. About 20 people were selected and are supported by Level 2 training to get them into the industry.

Sharon says Mr Apple makes a huge investment of time and effort into training – “what they are doing to support locals is phenomenal”.

For more information on the work of Primary ITO go to