A career in dairy might be more different than you think


Fonterra Chief Operating Officer of Farm Source and Global Operations, Robert Spurway, says a career in dairy doesn’t necessarily mean milking cows.  

According to Primary ITO chief executive Dr. Linda Sissons, one in five applicants for their new dairy apprenticeship programme are from Auckland. The programme, in partnership with Federated Farmers, is responding to the need for an estimated 17, 000 new workers by 2025. It will encourage more smart, innovative and ambitious people – including those from urban centres - to consider a career on a dairy farm.

This is great news because with increasing animal welfare, environment, and compliance requirements, number 8 wire will only go so far.

Today, our farmers need to be everything from agronomists, environmental scientists, veterinarians to high-tech experts.

All that to say, a career in dairy doesn’t mean you need to own cows. In addition to the 10, 000 farming families who own and supply high-quality milk to Fonterra, we need 22, 000 employees to add value to that milk and sell it to our customers.

I was reminded of this at a recent meeting when asked why our Co-op doesn’t hire more engineers. Being an engineer myself and sitting next to my colleague Kelvin Wickham, who also trained in engineering, I considered that some might not fully realise the diversity of roles within our Co-op.

As head of Farm Source and Global Operations, I’m keenly aware of the incredible range of talent we have and will continue to need in our sites, stores and support roles to farmers.

Robert Spurway, Fonterra Chief Operating Officer of Farm Source and Global Operations

In our Farm Source team, sustainable dairying advisors, veterinarians, technical sales representatives, area managers and many others advise, support and add value to our farmers’ businesses every day. 

And our 30 manufacturing sites here in New Zealand don’t run themselves. A wide variety of highly skilled employees including 4,500 operators, over 200 technicians, advanced analytic teams, and yes, about 240 engineers, keep our sites churning out high-quality milk products.

If you look a little further, our Fonterra Research and Development Centre employs over 300 people who develop world-leading ways to use dairy. Nearly a third hold PhDs and over half of the positions are held by women. They turn milk into medicine, create high protein sports nutrition and have figured out how to make extra stretchy mozzarella cheese. For this work, we also need patent experts to commercialise our intellectual property.

To grow the supply of talent we will continue to need, we’re enticing dozens of graduates each year for spots in our Business, Technical or Agri-Business Graduate Programmes. Since 1970, our Technical programme, for example, has had over 600 graduates in dairy science, food technology and engineering roles.

The competitive advantage of these graduate programmes comes with the size and scale of Fonterra; once in the Co-op the learning opportunities are endless. Kelvin is a great example of that. Since completing the graduate programme, he’s held several leadership positions at Fonterra including in Corporate Relations and as President of our Greater China and India businesses. Today, he leads NZMP – our dairy ingredients business that’s responsible for more than 22 per cent of all globally traded dairy products.  

And many are following in his footsteps. Within the past five years, 80 per cent of Technical programme graduates have gone on to secure positions within the Co-op, many of them overseas. An experience like this is a key reason why our Graduate programme was voted Top Graduate Employer in New Zealand by university students and recent graduates this year.

If we are to tackle the challenges ahead of us our industry needs all the innovative and ambitious people we can find – and for those who fit the bill, we have a place for you. 

Fonterra Chief Operating Officer of Farm Source and Global Operations, Robert Spurway