NEW technology developed to help manage its workforce could see major productivity benefits for Hillwood Berries.
This berry season, which is now getting underway, will see the introduction of a new app at the Hillwood farm to help monitor the individual productivity of pickers throughout the season.
Hillwood Berries general manager Simon Dornauf said the app had been developed in the wake of changes to the national Horticultural Award which were introduced in April guaranteeing a minimum hourly wage to piece-rate workers.
The app is being developed by Hillwood’s business productivity analyst Thom Goodwin and will be introduced across the company’s 500 workforce with the help of harvest manager Brent Norton.
Once introduced, Mr Goodwin said the app would allow pickers to clock on using their own unique bar code.
They will then be allocated a row in the tunnels to start picking in and they will be able to scan in the number of trays of fruit they pick.
The app will also direct pickers to the next row where they are required as needed.
Mr Goodwin said the app had been custom designed for the operation.
“There are other systems that allow you to record data but not like this,” he said.
“It’s still a work in progress, but most of last season we used the earlier version and now we’ve adapted it into something that’s going to be easy to use.”
Mr Dornauf said the system would give them real-time data about how individual pickers were performing throughout the day and enable them to tailor any production management or training as required.
Down the track, Mr Dornauf said there would also be scope to add quality-control measures for each picker as well.
“We weren’t driven to be productivity managers with the old hort award because if the worker couldn’t work to the competency of the average crew it was on them and they got penalised, I suppose,” he said.
“With the changes, though, it means we have to look at who is being productive the field and it gives you good insight … so it makes us look at things in a different way rather than just numbers to get the job done.”
Picking this season’s strawberry crop has just got underway at Hillwood.
“We’ve picked a couple of tonnes of fruit probably a week earlier than we have previously, so that’s a good start,” Mr Norton said.
“We planted everything on time because we managed to get all the labour we required this season.”
A lot of the pickers are already in the country as part of the Pacific labour scheme and had been working in Queensland.
Mr Dornauf said they will employ about 500 pickers across their operation this year.
Mr Norton said launching the new app and getting the pickers familiar with the new system will take some extra work this season, but it will pay off.
“Because we’re monitoring the individual now, we can assist them to a certain level, but if they’ve got a different skill set it’s going to be evident a lot earlier than previously,” he said.
Mr Norton said while the wet conditions were an issue for parts of the harvesting operation, with production at the farm now all under tunnels it does little to impact on fruit production or quality.
Mr Dornauf said the reasonable temperatures meant the weather was not impacting fruit ripening, however, the lower light levels can affect photosynthesis of the plants.