In the second part of our apprenticeship special, we take a look at all aspects of what an apprenticeship actually involves. Choosing a more practical route could really highlight your potential.
Not everybody wants to study full-time. Some prefer a more practical avenue of work and others are not as keen to pursue classroom academia.
Apprenticeships offer a nationally recognised qualification, along with valuable workplace skills and the added benefit of a guaranteed wage.
Not surprisingly, increasing numbers of young people are choosing apprenticeships as a way of gaining their first job in agriculture.
National Apprenticeship Week aims to celebrate the success of apprenticeships to highlight how they have helped many young people kickstart their careers.
Allowing people to ‘earn while they learn’, they are available in many different subjects across the agriculture sector, with most land-based colleges offering a range of apprenticeships.
Reaseheath College is one example offering apprenticeships and potential employees the chance to choose the length and level if they meet criteria and successfully complete an initial application process and assessment.
The college offers a wide variety of land-based subjects and all provide the chance to learn and earn an apprenticeship wage, which is currently £3.57/hour.
The college has also been chosen by Case, JCB, New Holland and Claas as their preferred training deliverer.
Peter Cray, a lecturer in agricultural engineering, describes the agricultural engineering apprenticeships, which have been developed over the last 10 years in partnership with industry.
He says: “Our apprenticeships offer a unique opportunity to work on the latest tractors and equipment because the companies we work with donate some of their latest models to the college.
“This allows apprentices to become familiar with new technology incorporated into the equipment and the diagnostic techniques needed to service them and troubleshoot problems.”
Mr Cray says the combination of classroom training and work experience means apprentices gain the best possible start to their careers.
He says: “We work closely with the industry, so our courses are very employer driven. We are teaching apprentices all the skills they will need for their employment.
“As a result, 100 per cent of our apprentices enter relevant employment or are accepted onto a university degree programme on completing the course.”
Claas is working with Reaseheath College and SRUC Barony Campus to offer its agricultural technician apprenticeship.
For successful applicants, there is the opportunity to complete the four-year apprenticeship, gaining hands-on experience at a Claas dealership and a structured training programme of up to 36 weeks at one of the two allied colleges.
Kelly Flack, Claas apprenticeship and placement co-ordinator, says apprenticeships can hone an individual’s skillset and strengthen what they bring to the workplace.
She says: “Many people here have worked for the company for 20-30 years, so there is job security and career progression.
“It is not an easy industry to work in and hours are long, especially at harvest, but we pay above minimum apprentice wage.”
In return, the company benefits from a ‘fresh talent’ with ‘new ideas’, which is crucial when many of their most experienced technicians are now nearing retirement age.
Kelly says: “There is a real skills shortage in engineering, so we need to bring new people into the business. We are looking for people with an interest in engineering who are practical and ‘hands-on’.”
A minimum of four GCSEs at grade C or above, including mathematics and English, is an entry requirement, and Kelly says some relevant work experience is always helpful.
“Apprentices will spend time in the workshop. They will go out on the road with our experienced technicians, complete an extensive training programme at one of our partner colleges and gain experience of customer service.”
For the company, running the apprenticeship programme is essential to their continued development and success.
Kelly says: “Apprentices are our future. We have to train them and retain them to sustain long-term growth.”
Easton and Otley College, East Anglia, has seen the number of agricultural apprenticeships increase from just 20 in 2007 to 130 today.
In response to the increasing demand, the college launched its Edge initiative in 2013 in partnership with Anglia Farmers, Atlas Framlingham Farmers and support from the Cobalt Trust.
Ellie Sweetman, agricultural apprenticeships programme leader at the college, explains the background to the project.
“We recognise the need for new blood to come into agriculture, so the apprenticeship scheme promotes employment opportunities available in food and farming to children in schools.”
Almost half of the college’s agricultural apprentices are not from a farming background, Ellie says, so it is vital the college is able to match them with suitable employers.
“We are looking to build the three-way relationship between employer, apprentice and college, and we also hope to reach new prospective employers.”
For apprentices new to agriculture, the college offers a pre-apprenticeship programme, so students can gain skills and experience needed to take up employment on-farm.
More than 90 per cent of apprentices remain in agricultural employment after they complete their course, she adds.
“It is rewarding when we see former apprentices, who perhaps struggled at school, taking on responsibility and progressing in their chosen career.”
For those more interested in the softer side of agriculture, the Soil Association’s Future Growers programme offers an entirely different apprenticeship experience.
Unlike accredited programmes affiliated to a college or university, Future Growers is an ‘informal apprenticeship’.
Although apprentices completing the programme do not receive any formal qualification or certificate, programme manager Rachel Harries believes there are many potential benefits.
She says: “Although our scheme does not fit into Government framework for apprenticeships, nearly everyone completing our apprenticeship programme finds relevant employment on completion of it, because they are recognised for technical experience and skills they have acquired.”
Apprenticeships focus on organic fruit and vegetable production, which is an area in which there are limited training opportunities, but a shortage of growers with expertise in small- and medium-scale production, Rachel adds.
She says: “Many see horticulture as unskilled work because of the need for seasonal workers to do manual tasks. But there is a need for committed individuals with a thorough understanding and practical experience of organic production techniques.”
The Future Growers programme offers a structured training programme, including a work placement with an organic producer who is committed to providing a rich and diverse learning environment within a viable business.
Rachel says: “Apprentices will attend seminars led by respected figures in the organic movement. They cover a range of topics, including organic principles, plant biology, soil health and pest and disease management.
“Apprentices also go on farm visits, where they can learn from growers and each other as a community of new growers. They can also apply for bursaries which enable them to attend conferences as part of their training.”
Apprenticeships have to pay a fee of £950 for the six-month traineeship scheme or £3,200 for the two-year apprenticeship, but apprentices will receive the full minimum wage from their employer, rather than the apprenticeship rates of pay, says Rachel.
The age demographic of the Future Growers programme differs from most apprenticeships which tend to attract younger people.
“We see quite a few people in their mid-20s, who already have degree-level qualifications, applying for our programme because they are looking for a career change. They bring with them a huge amount of skills and experience.”
Despite the cost, Future Growers is popular and now runs a mailing list for applicants who are awaiting a suitable placement.
Rachel estimates more than two-thirds of those completing the apprenticeship move into a relevant role afterwards and many set up their own organic market gardening businesses or work in community-supported agriculture schemes.
She says: “We have had more than 80 people on the scheme since we first set it up nine years ago and we are still in touch with many of them. We are always looking for growers to join our scheme so we can provide an opportunity for more young people.”