This job is sometimes referred to by alternative titles
Wool classers sort wool into categories according to breed of sheep, age, colour, length and micron (fibre thickness). They ensure contamination is removed from the wool, and complete identification and documentation prior to sale.
Wool classers are usually paid per fleece, but typically earn the equivalent of
$35-$55 per hour
Source: New Zealand Wool Classer Association, 2015.
Wool classing is rarely a year-round job, and most wool classers work full time for only about three months of the year.
- Wool classers working in a shearing shed are usually paid per fleece, and typically earn between $35 and $55 an hour.
- Those working during the shearing season (July to November) can expect to earn between $20,000 and $50,000.
Most wool classers have to pay their own travel expenses and ACC levies because they are self-employed. Many wool classers supplement their income by doing other related work such as shearing or woolhandling.
Source: New Zealand Wool Classer Association, 2015.
(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)
What you will do
Wool classers may do some or all of the following:
- discuss requirements with the farmer before shearing starts
- sort wool into groups to produce lines that have uniform colour, length, fault, and fibre diameter, and keep wool breeds separate
- ensure wool is free from contamination (such as black fibres, twine, and other foreign objects)
- ensure wool is sorted into the correct categories and placed in the correct bin (a cage for collecting similar wool types)
- operate and maintain wool-weighing, sampling and wool-blending machinery
- supervise the pressing and branding of wool bales
- keep records of the wool bales pressed
- be responsible for woolshed management.
Skills and knowledge
Wool classers need to have:
- knowledge of different wool grades and sheep breeds
- knowledge of market requirements for wool, and wool industry standards
- knowledge of wool-handling and woolshed procedures
- skill operating wool presses and other machinery
- wool-evaluation skills.
- work from 7am to 5pm in the main season (from July to November) and most weekends when the weather is good. At other times of the year, hours are few and irregular
- work mainly in shearing sheds, but a few are employed in wool stores and wool scours (wool-cleaning factories)
- work in conditions that may be dirty, dusty, noisy and greasy depending on the quality of the woolshed or store
- may travel long distances by road to get to the farms.
What's the job really like?
Merino wool is Diane Chilcott's passion. "I just love working with the fibre and all the associated aspects, like being involved in wool growth and development, working as part of a team in a woolshed, and understanding the process of yarn through to garment manufacture."
Wool classing demanding but also rewarding
Diane has worked in the wool industry for 25 years and has been a wool classer for most of that time.
"Classing in a woolshed is a great life. It's hard work mentally and physically, but immensely satisfying.
"We start work early, when it's still dark, doing two-hour-long runs before stopping to rest and refuel. We continue like that until it's time to go home, usually in the dark. We do that every day for as long as the season lasts – it gets pretty challenging."
Satisfaction comes from helping farmers get top dollar for their wool
"I get a real sense of achievement when the client earns top price at the wool market for their wool clip, and I know that I have played a major part in that outcome. That is really what the job is – maximising your clients' income through your knowledge and skills."
To become a wool classer it is recommended you complete the National Certificate in Wool Technology (Level 4), which is available through the Telford campus of Lincoln University. The certificate programme includes on-the-job training, working alongside a professional classer.
A driver's licence is also useful.
- Lincoln University (Telford campus) website - information on Certificate in Wool Technology (Level 4)
No specific secondary education is required for this job, but NCEA Level 2 is recommended.
Wool classers need to be:
- practical and able to work quickly
- accurate, with an eye for detail
- good at communicating and able to lead a team
- well organised and good at record-keeping.
Useful experience for wool classers includes:
- any work with a shearing gang, such as woolhandling or pressing
- work in a wool store or scour (where wool is chemically removed from sheepskins).
Wool classers need to be reasonably fit and agile. They need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses), a good sense of touch, and should not be allergic to wool.
Registration with the New Zealand Wool Classer Association enables wool classers to stamp wool bales they have sorted with an internationally recognised quality mark. While registration is not compulsory, many farmers will not employ non-registered wool classers.
Find out more about training
- Primary Industry Training Organisation
- 0800 208020 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.primaryito.ac.nz
Check out related courses
What are the chances of getting a job?
Ageing workforce creates some opportunities for wool classers
Though sheep numbers have continued to fall (due to many sheep and beef farms converting to dairy farming), and wool classing is a small occupation, demand is rising because about a quarter of those in the role are nearing retirement age.
Getting a qualification can increase your chances
Nearly all wool classing is done on farms during shearing. You can get a foot in the door by working for shearing contractors as a wool handler on a crossbreed sheep farm. But if you want to work on merino and halfbred (fine wool) sheep farms, it is recommended that you work towards the National Certificate in Wool Technology (Level 4) qualification. This teaches you how to class more accurately, which means farmers get the best prices for their wool. You also learn skills like managing a team, which can improve your chances of getting work.
Filling in for others can help build your reputation
If you set up as an independent contractor, you can initially find work by contacting wool brokers or local shearing contractors and filling in any gaps. In this way you can build up your reputation.
Wool classing work seasonal
Most wool classing jobs are available only during the peak shearing season (July to November), but you can earn good money in this short season.
If you are prepared to travel between New Zealand and Australia you can potentially be employed year-round. Otherwise, you need to supplement your income with other work.
Wool classers commonly self-employed
Many wool classers work as independent contractors.
Others may work as permanent employees or on annual contracts for:
- bulk wool stores
- wool merchants
- wool scours, where wool is chemically removed from sheepskins
- freezing works.
The New Zealand Wool Classer Association estimates that 90% of wool classers are employed in the South Island, and work mainly on merino and halfbred sheep farms located in the high country areas of Canterbury and Otago.
- Abbott, B, executive officer, NZ Wool Classer Association, Careers New Zealand interview, November 2015.
- McAlister, V, training adviser, wool harvesting, Primary ITO, Careers New Zealand interview, November 2015.
- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
Progression and specialisations
Wool classers may progress to supervisory or managerial roles in:
- wool-buying companies
- wool-exporting companies
- large-scale wool product manufacturers.
Wool classers can specialise in classing either fine wool (such as from merino sheep), or crossbred wool (from other common sheep breeds), or they may do both.
Last updated 16 June 2017