Diploma Study Boosts Frankie’s Career and Self-Confidence
There’s no doubt that dairy farming is a hands-on industry, but Frankie Stevens will tell you understanding the theory and business practices that underpin every farm is the real key to success.
Frankie has spent her entire life working on dairy farms around New Zealand as a herd manager and contract milker - but the pieces of the puzzle finally clicked into place when she enrolled in Primary ITO’s Certificate in Production Management in 2011 followed by a Diploma in Agribusiness Management in 2016.
“It was like all the lights had come on. I was getting all these results from the cows and actually getting it down on paper and seeing it all make sense was just so enlightening.
“There were so many useful things I learned about in the Diploma like taxation, doing cash flows and budgets, and working out operating profit. I really enjoyed the financial side of things. And then there was HR. I’d had an HR toolkit since 2011 and it had sat on my bookshelf. Now I know that thing inside and out thanks to my Diploma. Whenever we need to employ people now, I have a plan I actually utilise.”
Frankie admits she never particularly enjoyed school and struggled with dyslexia. She was forced to take over milking her parent’s herd on the West Coast of the South Island when she was 15 after a motorbike accident injured her father. At age 18 she went to Telford Rural Polytech and completed a Certificate in Agriculture but subsequent efforts to further her education were prevented by employers who felt it would impact on her work.
Many years later, she was inspired her to get back on track and into study again – and her passion for dairy farming and enthusiasm to learn saw her speed through her Diploma in just 18 months.
“I did two modules at a time. When I hear other people say the Diploma is so much work I just laugh because I was doing it twice as fast but still contract milking 350 cows with the support of my partner, and raising my son.”
Frankie says the Diploma covered topics like resource management and included working out how to convert a sheep and beef farm to a dairy unit. Risk assessment was another important aspect, learning how to deal with situations like payout volatility, climate change and biosecurity.
Understanding financial and accounting paperwork, tax requirements and different ownership structures has now given Frankie a solid foundation to work from.
“So many people go into contract milking or share milking with absolutely no idea about issues like taxation, accounting, dealing with banks or how to handle staff.
“I think that’s why we lose a lot of people in the industry because they burn out. They don’t have that knowledge behind them to support them in their journey and make sure they’re successful.
“If you’re going to go into self-employment you need to do budgets and know if you’re actually going to make any money. You need to know what you’re doing so you can avoid silly mistakes like not putting enough aside to cover your tax bill. I understand all of those issues now.”
Frankie says being able to talk to farmers in a business sense is another huge advantage when it comes to job interviews. “I know all about how to increase profit and production, and how to decrease their expenses. Without having studied the Diploma, I wouldn’t be able to have those conversations.”
Primary ITO’s courses are designed for adult directed learning, and offer a mix of hand-written notes, whiteboard sessions, class interaction and internet research. “I remember my tutor saying, ‘no question is a silly question’ and it was so true. If you didn’t know something, it was alright. We were really encouraged to help each other too which was great. There’s lots of different ways they give us the information because everyone has a different way of learning.”
While doing the assessments wasn’t easy, Frankie said she thoroughly enjoyed studying because she was also involved in practical farm work every day. The friends she made while studying have also turned into a valuable network and a helpful sounding board.
Now aged 40, Frankie has her sights set on a Bachelor in AgriCommerce majoring in Farm Management which she hopes to start next year.
“One day I’d like to work as a farm consultant and maybe even do a bit of tutoring myself. I love the idea of helping people acquire those great skills. The Diploma has given me a thirst for more knowledge and I wouldn’t have even thought about doing a degree if I hadn’t previously done the Diploma.”
Following her study, Frankie has also become a regional leader for the Dairy Women’s Network in the Western Bay of Plenty. She says having a supportive partner and son have played a big part in her recent achievements.
“A biggest thing I’ve gained is self-confidence in my ability as a learner and to have the initiative to do this sort of thing. I wouldn’t have it without having gone through the Diploma process.”