There is a clear need to encourage more young people into the sector
Employers across the wide spectrum of Scotland’s rural industries are being offered the chance to influence the future shape of workforce teaching and training at the country’s premier land-based vocational college.
Oatridge College in West Lothian launched the Scottish Rural Employers’ Forum with an inaugural meeting last month. It is planned to become an annual event at which businesses and organisations, whatever their size or industry sector, will have the opportunity to hear what is on offer in employee education and development, but more importantly, have their say on what the academics should be doing to best meet their needs.
The event, held in partnership with Skills Development Scotland, builds on the successful work of the college’s industrial liaison groups, which have and will continue to concentrate on specific sectors, like agriculture, horticulture, animal care, countryside management, equestrianism, horticulture and landscaping.
Brian Williams, the College Business Training Manager and part of the team which drew up plans for the forum, said: “We are fully committed to expanding the range of employers we are working with, because we want to maximise, where possible, the opportunities for young people to benefit from the opportunities available through Skills Development Scotland’s Modern Apprenticeship programme.
“We want to hear from employers what we can do for them and for their employees, including future employees, while bringing them up to date with what we are already doing and of course, giving them an excellent opportunity to network with other businesses in their own and other sectors.
Minister for Environment Stewart Stevenson said: “I was delighted to visit Oatridge College to open the first meeting of the Scottish Rural Employers’ Forum during Scottish Apprenticeship Week. The week offers a great chance to showcase what Modern Apprenticeships can provide for both employees and employers across the whole of Scotland.
“The Scottish Government wants Scotland to be a successful country where people want to live and work. Jobs are our top priority and the record-breaking 26,427 Modern Apprenticeships we delivered last year shows the kind of meaningful and lasting opportunities we are providing and will continue to build on.” Danny Logue, operations director at Skills Development Scotland, said: “Many rural employers have quite specific challenges, which make the flexibility of the Modern Apprenticeship programme particularly beneficial. Smaller employers operating on tight margins recognise the advantage of having an apprentice contributing to productivity from day one, while learning the specialisms of their employer.” Brian Williams added: “It is important to emphasise the good things that have been done for a number of years here at Oatridge. Our message is that we will continue to serve our community, locally and nationally. [The] event, we hope, will build on existing relationships and open up new ones among employers we haven’t worked with in the past.” Meanwhile, Scottish Land & Estates, which represents 2,500 landowners across Scotland, called on the Government to back their proposals to make rural Modern Apprenticeships fit for purpose for today’s rural business sector.
Daye Tucker, Director of Scottish Land & Estates and Chairman of the working group on apprenticeships, said: “The current system of apprenticeships does not work well for many landbased rural businesses. Bureaucratic obstacles such as legal or training costs and health & safety constraints on top of essential elements like college attendance and employee mentoring are relatively inflexible.
“While the demand for a skilled rural workforce is evident amongst our members, there is a clear need to encourage more young people, or those seeking a career change, into the sector. One obvious way to help make this happen is to create a Modern Apprenticeship scheme which will cater for the specialist needs of both employers and those looking for a career in the rural sector.” Key elements of the Scottish Land & Estates proposal included employer collaboration and support, core skills and specialist knowledge, training and evaluation, flexibility of college attendance and employer support and awareness raising.