The future of farming in this country lies in the hands of the younger generation; only by investing in them and developing their skill base will the sector thrive.

Buccleuch works closely with Lantra Scotland, a Sector Skills Council, supporting skills and training for people and businesses in the land-based, aquaculture and environmental sector, to offer modern apprenticeships in agriculture for the next generation.

Ryan Paxton, from Selkirk was an apprentice at the Borders Estate.

Where the story begins…

It is estimated that over the next decade the sector will need 30,000 new entrants. The most common reason we see so many vacancies for highly skilled staff is a shortage of skills resulting from technical advancements in the sector over recent years. The current skills that employers feel are important to the sector in Scotland are:

–  Technical skills (e.g. animal handling and care, disease identification and control)
–  Implementing new technology (including genetic engineering)
–  ICT skills (e.g. robotics)
–  Leadership/management skills (e.g. succession planning, entrepreneurial skills)
–  Essential skills (literacy, numeracy and communication)

How Buccleuch got involved…

Sion Williams, Farm Manager at Buccleuch’s Borders Estate, has been taking on apprentices for more than eight years after getting involved with Lantra’s programme at Borders College. He currently farms 9,000 acres at Bowhill with 500 cows, 4,500 sheep, plus some arable farming. Employing nine full time employees including himself, Sion believes:

“It is our job to give young people the opportunity to gain hands on experience, and inspire them to look for lasting careers in the rural sector; if those of us who are already working in the industry don’t take this responsibility seriously, then no one will. The future of agriculture lies in our hands.”

Sion’s apprentice, Ryan, embarked on a Modern Apprenticeship in Agriculture with Borders College on leaving school. At the time he wasn’t sure if he wanted to go into a career in farming or gamekeeping. Borders Estate offered Ryan an apprenticeship alongside his college course, as he worked his way from level one to four.

Sion starts all apprentices with his Shepherds, looking after lambs and vaccinations. From here, they move to cattle and then begin doing the jobs themselves. The college makes regular visits to assess the work and at the end a certificate is given to show Ryan is fully trained. Not only is this great for Ryan, but also the farm, as it shows they’re adhering to legislation. Sion says this is now fundamental to farming as health and safety becomes a larger focus, alongside the use of technology (such as sheep tagging).

What happened next…

The benefits are mutual. While Ryan is paid to learn in the environment he wishes to work in, the farm gets the benefit of his college training. Buccleuch sees the apprenticeship programme as a long-term investment, not only for their individual farm, but the industry as a whole. Buccleuch pays above the minimum wage requirement and in this case, was delighted to gain Ryan as a full time employee following his apprenticeship.

Furthermore, Ryan was shortlisted from an exceptionally talented pool of nominees for Lantra Scotland’s ‘Land-based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year’ Awards. Focused on bringing on young people within the rural sector, the industry awards, judged by an independent panel, cover eight key sectors from agriculture to game and wildlife, trees and timber and land-based engineering. Ryan’s nomination is a great testament to the skills he’s developed throughout his time at Borders Estate and Borders College.

Ryan has now set his sights on being a Cattleman or Head Cattleman in the future and describes it as ‘a great job to be in. You have to love it to be in it.’

Read more about the Borders Estate...