How to grow

Do you want to tend turf at Wimbledon or revolutionise the entire sheep rearing industry? UK Land based education courses in schools, colleges and higher education institutions are no longer just about farming. With recent reports highlighting a ‘skills shortage’ in the horticulture and agriculture industries, local students may be surprised at the range of career options on offer if they choose a land based education.

According to the Rt. Hon. Lord Baker of Dorking C.H, chairman of Edge Foundation, a foundation aimed at raising the profile of vocational learning, the importance of training young people in agriculture and other land-based courses is essential to the UK economy.
He says: “The agricultural sector is vital to the strength of our economy. As well as its economic contribution, agriculture significantly contributes to our workforce, providing thousands of jobs to people of all ages and backgrounds. Therefore it is imperative that people see the value in high level vocational qualifications in agricultural studies and identify the many paths to success that they can lead to.”
However, in a recent report entitled ‘The Skills Mismatch’, he reports a shortage of skilled people entering the industry in jobs such as farming, agricultural management and horticulture, something that may be helped by the Duke of Cambridge completing an agricultural management course.
He explains: “My recent report, ‘The Skills Mismatch’ shows, there is a severe shortage of skilled and experienced people entering the agricultural sector. Young people should take inspiration from the Duke and follow his lead to enjoy a career in this industry.”
The theory is backed up by a study by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and featuring television gardener Alan Titchmarsh, which says 72% of horticulture firms in Britain struggle to find skilled workers and 67% of those entering the profession are inadequately trained for the work.
Alan says: “If this situation continues, British horticulture will become a shadow of its former self.”

Land based revival

It is not all doom and gloom in the horticulture industry. In the North West, several institutions offer extensive horticulture options for school-age pupils and beyond, in areas than many may not suspect are an available career option.
Myerscough College is one of the leading land-based Higher and Further Education colleges in the UK. Dating back more than 100 years, the Lancashire site is set in 600 hectares of green land and the range of courses and qualifications is vast. Facilities at the college include an Animal Academy specialising in animal care, an International Equestrian Arena and the National Centre for Arboriculture, with courses ranging from traditional agriculture and fishery studies to lesser-known courses such as sports turf management and veterinary nursing.
Sports turf management is just one of the courses that may surprise students who may not know about the varied opportunities available in land education, says Nicola Cunningham, Higher Education Sportsturf Lecturer at Myerscough College. However, 12 former Myerscough students have taken up roles at the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC) , whose venues include the world famous Wimbledon, including current head groundsman, Neil Stubley.
Only last month three first year students signed up to gain experience with the AELTC, working on the turf at Wimbledon, international cricket venue, The Oval, in London, and golf courses in Norway.
Nicola says: “I have been lucky enough to also experience this myself so know how great an opportunity is for the students taking part. These are valuable positions within the industry around the UK & Europe and it’s great for the guys to be given such great opportunities.”
Meanwhile, tutor Wendy O’Brien recently travelled to America to volunteer as part of the green keeping team at the US Masters golf tournament, highlighting the range of sports-based horticulture careers on offer at the college. The college also offers courses in Floral Art and Design and held an exhibition and catwalk show, as well as more traditional horticulture and land based studies from BTEC level to higher education subjects, where it was named one of the top two land-based colleges in the UK in a 2013 National Student Survey.

Agricultural growth

Another horticulture specialist, Reaseheath College in Cheshire, has joined forces with local schools as part of the ‘RHS Campaign for School Gardening’ to inspire younger people into horticulture careers.
Dawn Lancely, of Reaseheath College, says: “Through gardening children can understand how food grows and the impact our food choices make on our planet. Reaseheath College’s popular horticultural and agricultural courses offer a hands on approach to learning and range from foundation up to degree level.”
Key to this hands-on approach includes carrying our trials to help UK industry, says Garden Project Leader Babirye Gregory, who leads several Level 5 kitchen garden projects in Cheshire schools. She says: “Reaseheath’s agriculture students are carrying out trials for the UK feed industry, to find alternative sources to soya, which is fed to pregnant ewes and lambs, to help improve the long term sustainability of sheep production within the UK.”
Even primary and secondary schools can get involved; Wirral’s Claremont Farm has a Countryside Educational Visits Accreditation Scheme (CEVAS) which allows schools to visit and get hands on learning why farming is important to food production from a real, working farm.
Clare Cox, health promotion worker/deputy manager, Dingle Lane Children’s Centre, says: “We have been visiting Claremont Farm for the last three years; this unique opportunity allows some of the most disadvantaged families in Liverpool to experience the concept of ‘field to table’.
The visit provides access to a guided, informative walk around the farm, were the children are able to sample produce and ask questions relating to the growing process.”
According to the Skills Mismatch report, 55% of people in the agriculture, farming and fishing industry are over 45 years of age compared with just 38% across the economy as a whole. The demand for replacements is forecast to be ‘very high’ in the decade to 2020, with an estimated 212,000 people needed to replace retiring workers.
The North West’s land based industry is thriving, and its many institutions could hold the key to a skills shortage across the UK. By introducing school visits, offering interactive tours, apprenticeships and training, the North West is becoming a hub for horticulture, agriculture and farming training. Pupils and learners across the region are being offered the chance of a career in a thriving industry that needs their skills.

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