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Employees turn to self-directed learning to increase skills

Get training from outside of your employer to reach your career goals, say farmers who proactively sought to improve their skills and career development. Jez Fredenburgh reports.


There is a lot to be learned from on-farm training but what if you have reached the limit of what your employer can, or is willing, to offer you in terms of development, either in-house or otherwise? For young employees, gaining formal training through their employer appears to be getting harder.

According to a recent Farmers Guardian survey of 359 businesses, 88 per cent of those aged 55-65 had help from their employers in gaining qualifications, compared to 43 per cent of those aged 16-25.




Now more than ever is a time to chase your own learning opportunities.

In fact, in the same survey, 63 per cent of ancillary employees and 50 per cent of farming employees said they had sought skills independently of their employer.

For 16 to 25 year olds and 25 to 35 year olds, this was even higher, at 60 per cent and 62 per cent respectively.

For ambitious employees who want to help drive change in a business, now could also be the perfect moment to make the most of self-directed learning, says Sue Bryan, Promar’s farm consulting manager in the southern region.

“Agriculture is about to go through many big changes, including adapting to climate change, new farming policy and natural capital markets – and that offers opportunity,” says Sue.

“Businesses will need young people’s fresh minds.

You’ve really got the chance to make a difference and do your own self-directed learning,” she says.

“Develop yourself, attend courses, be open minded, and never stop seeking to learn and to find that information.

Because right now, everything is in turmoil and it might feel daunting, it might feel that there is not enough information around [about upcoming changes], but that available information will grow and you can remain at the forefront of it.

“No professional, no adviser, no consultant is ever going to think badly of you, or be frustrated; if we receive a phone call from a young person out of the blue who asks, ‘please tell me more about this’,” says Sue.

As well as formal courses and industry development opportunities, there is a huge range of other training that employees can seek out, from courses run by their vets, to webinars from AHDB, to online videos, e-courses, and ample reading materials.

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Case study: ‘I wanted to meet other people outside the company and broaden my horizons’

Sam Briant-Evans
Sam Briant-Evans

IT is vital to look for training opportunities outside of your employer, says 38-year-old farm manager Sam Briant-Evans, who graduated from the Institute of Agricultural Management’s (IAgrM) Leadership Development Programme in 2018.

Sam manages 13 members of staff on the 1,000-hectare, 800-dairycow operation on the Velcourtmanaged Clinton Devon Estate Farms, Devon, and has been in the role since February 2020.

“While I’d always wanted to go into farming, 10 years ago I couldn’t have imagined that I’d be farm manager for such a high profile estate,” says Sam.

While he credits his employer with pushing him hard and offering opportunities, he says his IAgrM training has been important to his career progression.

Having studied agriculture at Cirencester, Sam entered farming through Velcourt’s management training programme, working his way up to farm manager at another of the company’s businesses, Castle Hill Estate in North Devon.

“I had been in the job at Caste Hill about eight years and done a lot of development,” says Sam.

“I was happy with my employer but my role had developed and I wanted to get a broader understanding of agriculture and its interlinking sectors.

“Increasingly as your career progresses you find yourself around more and more knowledgeable people and you need to be able to hold your own with them.

I also wanted to improve my team management skills,” he says.

“Velcourt has an enormous skill set within it, but I also wanted to meet other people outside the company and broaden my horizons.” He considered applying for a Nuffield Scholarship, but did not think the time commitment needed would be possible for him.

So he broached the subject at his next appraisal and his manager suggested the IAgrM course.




Sam enrolled on the course and studied policy, international affairs, management and communication skills, and personal development, with a week in Brussels, London, and Cirencester.

“The whole experience was very eye opening,” remembers Sam.

“The other course attendees were all excelling in their fields – and there was a moment where I realised that I must be excelling too.” The personal development was most valuable, says Sam, and he saw the biggest difference at board meetings.

“The course showed me how to better present myself and how I might be viewed by other people.

It gave me more confidence in my own abilities and knowledge and how to get my points across in an assertive, but polite way, while also teaching me how to listen and take on board other views.” What he learned has become more important as he’s taken on increasing responsibility, he says.

“It has helped me deal with people at a strategic level but I am also now a better manager and leader.

I listen to feedback more and understand individuals better so I can get the best from them.”




The opportunity to network with other individuals at the top of their game was also invaluable, says Sam, and he now has a book of contacts to call on who can help open doors that might not have been possible otherwise.

“I would definitely consider training outside my employer again.

The industry really struggles to find good farm managers, so it is vital we have good young people progressing in it,” he says.

“Talk to your employer about training – it will make the whole process easier and any good employer should be looking at it anyway.”

Case study: ‘If you’re ambitious, take charge of your own career’

Beth Kirby
Beth Kirby

Sometimes it is necessary to study outside of work to reach your career goals, says Beth Kirby, dairy herd manager at Sansaw Dairy, Shropshire.

Having graduated in bioveterinary science at Harper Adams University, Beth, 26, is now managing a 1,250- head dairy herd and is a leader of one to two staff teams who she is continuing to develop her management skills with.

She is already in her third year of the role, having worked her way up from assistant herdsperson.

She says her employer has been very supportive with on-farm training, which has included workshops and learning on topics such as breeding, facility management and grazing.

“Longer term, I would like to manage a farm and potentially have equity in a business one day.

But I’ve probably gone as far as I can in my current job as above me is an experienced farm manager who is unlikely to leave,” says Beth.

Keen to continue to progress in her current role though, Beth is part of the Tesco Future Farmers Programme, which she put herself forward for, and is also studying under Promar’s Dairy Management Academy.

The course is a big commitment – it involves eight modules over two years, comprising two days per module, per quarter.

In between, Beth does home study.

“It normally involves a couple of nights in a hotel with other course participants, which gives you a chance to network.

It’s a pretty expensive course, so it’s important to put in what you want to get out.” Since her employer is paying for the training, this also involves another big commitment – Beth has signed a contract to remain with the business for at least four more years, or else pay for the course fees if she leaves before then.

“Often the only way of hitting those milestones is to do it in your own time.

If you are ambitious you need to take charge of your career and put in the miles yourself,” says Beth.

She advises other young farming professionals to discuss training with their employer.

“Talk to them about your goals and help them see that your training will improve things for them too.

“If that doesn’t work though, take time to educate yourself.

There are plenty of resources out there, including YouTube videos, webinars run by AHDB and discussion groups.

I’ve got textbooks I use, but you can also ask for book recommendations.” In the future, Beth would like to travel to New Zealand for six to 12 months and bring knowledge back to Sansaw Dairy, which runs a NZ-style system.



#ThisIsAgriculture has joined forces with key industry stakeholders from across the farming sector to promote careers in agriculture, collaborating with industry bodies and industry partners to see how and where we can work together to drive educational reform and provide learning resources.


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Articles will showcase young individuals working in agriculture and help agricultural businesses and farms understand recruitment and staff retention challenges and practical ideas they can adopt to mark the evolving changes which are happening in the careers, skills and training area.


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