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From jets to tractors for airline pilot

By UCOL on Wednesday, 16 September 2020

Neil Johansson

With COVID-19 restrictions grounding airline pilot Neil Johansson, he’s traded jets for tractors as he gets set to start a new job in agricultural contracting.

Johansson will soon be finishing the Agricultural Contracting course being run at Taratahi Agricultural Training Centre near Masterton. The fully funded six-week course, a joint venture between UCOL, EIT and Ministry of Primary Industries, equips people with entry-level skills for agricultural contracting work. 

Johansson, an airline pilot based out of Europe, arrived in the country with his wife for her work at the end of January. He planned to fly out and carry on with his job in March, but COVID-19 restrictions meant that if he left the country he wouldn’t be able to return because he is not a resident.  

While looking for work, an article about agricultural contracting training at Taratahi jumped out at him. 

“It’s something where I get to be outside. I haven’t worked in an office for 25 years, so that’s why I chose this,” says Johansson.
Taratahi’s Agricultural Contracting course includes two weeks for developing tractor and machinery skills and learning health and safety, two weeks of driver endorsement training, and a two-week work placement.

Before he finished the course, Johansson already secured a job with a local contractor. The work will take him through to next March, with the possibility of staying on longer.

Seven of the twelve people in Johansson’s intake have found work before the end of the course.

Johansson, a Kenyan citizen but originally from South Africa, says he has thoroughly enjoyed the course, particularly getting hands on with the machinery.  

“The last time I drove a tractor was in 1985, so I have rediscovered that. I had no idea what half of the implements that go on the back are, but now I do and I’ve got my tracks, rollers, and forklifts endorsements.”

“We have some nice modern tractors to learn on. It’s been a big learning curve because they are very computerized compared to what I remember.”

Local farm equipment suppliers have provided machinery for the students to learn with. Tulloch Farm Machines has supplied Massey Ferguson and Fendt tractors, a Rabe power harrow, and a Krone hay rake. Meanwhile Power Farming Wairarapa has provided a Duetz tractor with a front end loader, trailer, and soft hands.

Wairarapa contractors have also given great support to the course, with Andrew Tulloch Contracting, Grays Contracting, and Scott’s Ag Contracting offering guidance and advice to the students.