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Rural Economy

Rural Economy - Conclusions

Report Segment: Conclusions

This report has shown that the rural economy encompasses both high level and low level skills. As computerised equipment takes over from manual labour, there is a need for higher level skills, however both in farming and food processing, one finds little appetite for national qualifications and much more enthusiasm for short courses which achieve what is needed. This approach has been supported by two key programmes the RDP LandSkills East training initiative, and the Beyond 2010 Programme delivered to food businesses through Food East. Together, these programmes have delivered subsidised training to thousands of rural companies in the East of England.

Whilst the colleges have significant involvement in the agricultural sector and of course LandSkills East is based at Easton College, there is much less evidence of further education with the food processing sector. Here one tends to find that companies have little experience with FE and tend to think of them as an irrelevance to their sector. When they have expressed specific workforce needs, such as multi-skilling engineers, the FE sector has been slow to react, not least because it is difficult to imagine achieving break-even on such a course when there is no guarantee of student numbers.

One of the key recommendations of this report is that the Employer Skills Board should look at the components required to create a course for engineers to enable them to become multi-skilled and fit for employment in a range of sectors from food and farming, to manufacturing and energy. This would need to involve the following:

- Identifying the range of businesses who would participate in the scheme as a minimum committing to taking on multi-skilled engineers in some capacity once they have been trained, and if possible encouraging them to take on trainees as part of the scheme;

- Identifying the likely number of potential students older engineers out of work, liasing with Jobcentreplus as a start;

- Talking to colleges to discuss the potential for course delivery times, frequency, delivery method, etc.. and involving businesses in the design and delivery of the course.

As pointed out by Bernard Matthews training Manager Bryan Hurst, food companies have many kinds of job roles from marketing and design, to accounting, HR and of course, training. But the sector often is seen as an homogenous entity processing raw food materials into some processed form. Changing the perceptions of teachers students and parents about these businesses is a real challenge. It may be a good start to look at a rural economy marketing exercise, aimed at reshaping the image of farming, food and drink businesses to better reflect the changes that have taken place over the last twenty years.

This could lead to a new impetus for apprenticeships in the sector. Once young people can see the benefits of working in the sector and the broad range of skills required by businesses operating in farming, food and drink manufacturing, they may feel differently about working for one of these businesses.

The merger of Easton and Otley College also brings opportunities for re-branding and repositioning the education offer in the region. Many businesses we spoke to for this report referred to Harper Adams as the university of choice for young aspiring farmers and many farming families in East Anglia rely on this kind of education to continue the family farming connection. However, with university education becoming more expensive, could there not be an opportunity for the new Easton/Otley group to deliver more higher education skills in short bursts ( to fit in with the pressure of the farm working year) and at much less cost than a full-time university degree course? Easton College already has high credibility in the market place and presumably the Centre for Contemporary Agriculture could be an ideal vehicle to explore higher skills options for the farming community across the two counties.