NFU Scotland celebrates Scottish Apprenticeship week

It’s Scottish Apprenticeship Week, a national celebration of apprenticeships and work-based learning.

NFU Scotland is one of 12,000 Scottish businesses who support apprenticeships. In this blog, Al Walker plots his employment journey at NFU Scotland over the last six years. Al is one of three former or current Modern Apprentices employed at NFU Scotland.

From joining NFUS as a Modern Apprentice straight out of high school, Al has since completed a Graduate Apprenticeship Business Management degree, achieving First Class Honours and, last year, Al joined NFU Scotland’s policy team as Political Affairs Assistant, a key role in driving the Union’s lobbying work at Holyrood and Westminster. Al writes: 

For those of you who don’t know my face, you may recognise my voice!

When I started my Modern Apprenticeship at NFU Scotland, I worked within the communications team for close to 6 years. As part of my role, I was the person who had the privilege to communicate and engage with NFUS members over the phone whenever they called head office. I also dealt with email queries, media requests, and everything else in between. 

When I began working at NFUS straight from high school, I started as a Modern Apprentice. Just like many of our members that employ young apprentices to earn while they learn on farm, I was the same. 

My knowledge of Scottish agriculture was sparse. However, I was eager to learn. After the first six months, I had already gained a wealth of knowledge of farming activities as I discussed and resolved NFUS members’ queries. Whether that was an issue with slurry or a land access problem, I was there to assist with great help from my colleagues.

Upon completing my Modern Apprenticeship, I then began another challenge in 2019, as I went on to do a Graduate Apprenticeship at Heriot Watt University with a Master of Arts degree in Business Management. Being awarded First Class Honours in my degree last December was a great achievement for me, especially as I found this to be a very strenuous experience. There were many instances of burnout working twelve-to-fourteen-hour days as I persevered through studying alongside my full-time employment with the Union. 

It really puts into perspective the hard work of those within the agricultural sector who do these hours and more, through all seasons of weather, not just for a 4-year degree but for a lifetime. It really highlights the strength and resilience of our agricultural businesses. 

During my studies, I got to consider and discuss different theories of sustainability for agricultural businesses. I was enthusiastic about improving NFU Scotland’s own business capabilities, but many of these were parallel to the members we represent. We were all looking to continuously improve our systems to maintain financial stability within a hectic environment of pandemics and cost of living crisis. 

Following the completion of the degree, I was appointed as Political Affairs Assistant within the NFUS policy team. Over the past six months, I now have an even greater wealth of knowledge of Scottish agriculture and the surrounding political environment, and I am now discovering the true complexities of agricultural policy. 

However, without that foundation of knowledge that I built by engaging with NFUS members when I first started out, I would have found this new role extremely challenging.

This highlights the importance of our union, as we cross-collaborate with each other to solve problems and learn how to continuously improve to stay resilient. 

This is also why it is important to work with political stakeholders to secure a profitable and sustainable future for Scottish agriculture. We will regularly engage with politicians of all parties in Holyrood and Westminster but by inviting them on farm they can discover first-hand the commitment of farmers and crofters to solving problems and improving land management techniques, dedication to environmental sustainability, and enhancing biodiversity. 

With the first six months now behind me, the daunting and exciting task of multiple government bills, strategies, frameworks and a General Election lie ahead. 

However, I believe if it weren’t for the two apprenticeships I wouldn’t be where I am now. 

It is why I am keen to reinforce the importance of education, skills, and training for the next generation of farming while celebrating what our current generation is getting right. 

Highlighting our individual and collective achievements is becoming pivotal for our future progress as a sector and is one of the reasons why I write this blog. 

The agricultural sector provides such high-quality world-renowned produce that feeds our nation, provides employment and learning opportunities for all, and holds the key to environmental sustainability. My job going forward will be to communicate this to political stakeholders so let’s showcase that as a Union. 

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