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Growing Rural Talent – A Pathway into Agriculture (and much more)

Scottish agriculture is addressing the twin challenge of creating pathways into our sector and growing the rural talent within it writes NFU Scotland’s Skills Development Policy Manager George Jamieson.

The farming sector is increasingly aware of several factors: the speed of technological change, increased competitiveness in global trade, supply chain pressures, climate change, biodiversity, animal welfare, rural tourism, and indeed the welfare of farming and ruralcommunities.

Demographics indicate that we have an ageing workforce, and research from Skills Development Scotland (SDS) suggests that despite a small increase in the total number of jobs in agriculture, there remains a significant need to replace those retiring.

Covid-19 has resulted in temporarily higher unemployment, which offers an opportunity to attract new entrants in the short term. Research, however, indicates that once the economy recovers, we will return to a competitive labour market exacerbated by reduced migration. This will require farming to offer an attractive proposition.

We see three major foundations as essential to resolving the challenge of attracting, motivating, and retaining new talent in the rural sector:

  • proactive farmers as employers and mentors.
  • education and training providers offering the appropriate courses and delivery methods. 
  • a major promotion in schools to demonstrate the value of food production as a career.

All three must collaborate and work with local stakeholders.

The Growing Rural Talent (GRT) - Pathway into Agriculture is a pilot scheme which aspires to cover these points. GRT was founded by a desire to increase the uptake of Modern Apprentices (MA) in the dairy sector, which remains very concerned about the future recruitment of skilled staff.

This pilot, supported by SDS, was a partnership between NFUS, SRUC, and Dumfries & Galloway Council. Local farmers also brought together key stakeholders, as we worked to tailor the MA in agriculture to the specific requirements of the dairy farm and young people. We met with progressive farmers to explain the concept, their role in supporting students, and working with SRUC. Schools were approached and included in the discussion, embracing the need to inform and motivate pupils, parents, and teachers.

The pilot recognised the need for a transition from school to work-based education. The ‘team’ developed a novel and unique course, (now SQA approved), which offered fifth year pupils one day a week on a dairy farm for the school year. Pupils were supported by farmer mentors and backed up by time at SRUC Barony College to cover SVQ modules and employability courses at school. This proved attractive to schools, pupils, and farmers.

The ambition for the GRT team is that this hands-on experience in a work-based environment gives pupils the knowledge to make informed decisions about their education and career choices.

A high proportion of the initial intake have now moved on to an MA or full-time education, and some have completed their SCQF 6 MA and are fully employed in well paid, secure jobs with great prospects. The work experience for senior pupils complements the successful ‘pre apprenticeship’, which offers work-based experience for youngsters who have left school. Both are key components of the GRT - Pathway into Agriculture.

This success highlights the huge potential of the GRT concept. The dairy pilot demonstrated that the principle of GRT, and an agricultural (or rural) pathway, could fit any region and sector (with nuances).  The key was inclusion of all essential partners: farmers, schools, and providers, supported by local authorities, SDS, Developing the Young Workforce (DYW) and Lantra wherever needed.

The South of Scotland Enterprise Partnership saw merit in investing in GRT to expand into the Borders and include not only different sectors from agriculture (beef, sheep, poultry etc.), but also forestry. Borders College and the forestry sector contributed greatly to the advancement of the project, further emphasising the merit in genuine collaboration.

Despite logistical and administrative issues due to Covid-19 the project has moved on with excellent support, and interest from Stranraer to Berwick.

The GRT project and pathway was presented with the ‘Anna Murray award’ at the recent ALBAS 2021 award ceremony in recognition of its collaborative approach to developing education and career pathways for young people.

We are very grateful for the support from the South of Scotland Economic Partnership and the South of Scotland Enterprise.

The next stage is ambitious and will require more collaboration and new funding to consolidate and further develop the work in the South. The aim now is to spread the concept across all sectors in agriculture and forestry, in all regions of Scotland.

Author: George Jamieson

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About The Author

George Jamieson

George Jamieson graduated from SRUC in 1977, then ran the family farming partnership specialising in pedigree breeding and commercial milk production, cereal, beef and sheep enterprises and environmental schemes. In 2001 George left the family business to work for the Scottish Governments Rural Affairs Department office in Dumfries before promotion to management in the Hamilton office, covering all the agriculture schemes, and secondment to policy implementation in Edinburgh. From the civil service George moved to SRUC to work as consultant with SRUC in the Dumfries Office, covering business, technical and subsidy/grants, with specialist involvement in dairy and the Rural Development Programs. Joining NFUS in 2008 as Milk Policy Manager, after 10 years he now has the policy responsibility for Education and Skills in the land based sectors.

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