Talley's production manager, Armi Chia, never thought of 'becoming someone' in the New Zealand seafood industry when he arrived from Malaysia nine years ago.

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Talley’s production manager, Armi Chia, never thought of ‘becoming someone’ in the New Zealand seafood industry when he arrived from Malaysia nine years ago.

When he arrived from Malaysia nine years ago, Armi Chia was packing apples.

Today he oversees 200 people at Talley’s mold factory in Blenheim.

“To be honest, for the past nine years, I never thought I would become someone in the seafood industry in New Zealand. I kept doing my best and I have a very good boss,” said Chia.

He would be in charge of even more staff, but the Blenheim factory is running halfway, partly due to a lack of staff.

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Talley's senior supervisor Armi Chia with a robotic arm he developed during lockdown.

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Talley’s senior supervisor Armi Chia with a robotic arm he developed during lockdown.

“At the moment, due to Covid, everyone is struggling with the staff, but we are starting to see good signs, it is starting to improve,” Chia said.

“It was a good thing to extend the PVT because we need these people.”

To help address labor shortages, the government has doubled the Working Holiday scheme cap to 12,000 for 2022/23 and extended visas for holidaymakers.

LAWRENCE SMITH / Stuff

Michael Woods, alongside Tourism Aotearoa CEO Rebecca Ingram, announced changes to immigration settings to help ease a labor shortage.

People with existing holiday work visas that expire between August 26, 2022 and the end of May next year will be granted a six-month extension.

Chia himself arrived from Malaysia in 2013 on a working holiday visa. He spent the first six months packing apples in Hawke’s Bay before moving to Motueka and getting a job at food processing company Talley’s.

“I had an essential skills work visa. Every year you have to worry about your visa,” he said.

“I kept saying to myself, I have another visa until June next year, so for the next 12 months I’m going to do my best, putting in a lot of effort.”

At Talley’s, the 39-year-old quickly rose through the ranks from machine operator to senior supervisor.

Asked to participate in a productivity improvement project in 2018, Chia was then tasked with creating a game-style app showing mold openers their work.

“We filmed hundreds of openers in action, then analyzed their techniques in slow motion – at around one-tenth of their normal speed. Within a month, we had found the best and safest technique for opening molds. and broke it down into six clear steps.

“We released footage of themselves, as well as footage of workers with the best technique to help them see where they could improve,” Chia said.

Two years later, Chia was involved in the construction project for the new factory in Blenheim and last year moved to Marlborough to become production manager at the site.

“It doesn’t matter where you come from, as long as you show potential, as long as you want to learn, they [Talley’s] will do everything possible to train you and even open a career path for you.”

The company is also now an Accredited Employer under the new Accredited Employer Work Visa (AEWV).

There are now three steps to hiring a migrant under the scheme: accreditation, an employment check to ensure no New Zealanders can do the job and a migrant check.

Chia said they are still looking to implement the new program in the company.

“We are looking at how we are supporting more people than we think are worth staying in New Zealand and putting more effort into training them.

“Like me, I’ve seen the effort and resources this company has put into supporting people like me.”

With the support of her employer, Chia and his wife Jeslyn were granted residency a few weeks ago.

“It’s a very strange feeling, I’ve been waiting for so long, and then all of a sudden you got it, we’re so happy.”

The couple are now considering buying their first home and starting a family.

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