Unique community-led skills initiative in National Park aims to retain rural/farming workforce

Recently, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park has seen unprecedented growth in diversification on farms and land-based businesses, often in response to the thriving renewable energy, tourism and food/drink markets. However, the successful future of many of these land-based businesses in the National Park, particularly agriculture, will rely on access to a skilled, local workforce. Unfortunately, the outward migration of young people from the region, a trend which affects many rural areas in Scotland, is threatening the future growth and prosperity of these vital industries.

According to research undertaken by Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park (LLTNP) Community Partnership in 2012, the area has an ageing population, with an 8.1% decrease in the number of younger people living there over the last 20 years. Part of the problem is that younger people, particularly those between the ages of 16 and 24, are finding it increasingly difficult to access local training and employment opportunities.

In response, funded by the Forth Valley & Lomond European LEADER programme, the Community Partnership is running a number of community led initiatives that help support and enhance training and employment opportunities within the National Park and encourage young people to live and work within their local communities.

The most recent initiative, ‘Rural Skills Week’, was hosted by Luss Estates, a major employer in the region, and took place from 17 to 21 November.

This five-day programme of skills workshops covered all aspects of estate management, from fencing and environmental conservation to woodland planting, sheep farming, drystone dyking and agricultural engineering.

The skills courses were supported by Historic Scotland, Lantra Scotland, Luss Estates, the Dry Stone Walling Association, Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, The Countryside Trust, Skills Development Scotland (SDS), Fraser C. Robb, and Scotland’s Rural Colleges (SRUC) who presented a unique insight into what it takes to work on a rural estate. At the end of the week, one of the six young people who took part in the event got the chance of an interview with Luss Estates for a Modern Apprenticeship in Agriculture.

The event was designed specifically to get a small group of young, unemployed people from the region interested in rural skills and to demonstrate the variety of career options available to them. Although this is a first for Luss Estates, the LLTNP Community Partnership hope that this unique employer-led partnership approach to promoting skills opportunities could act as a template for other areas and sectors, once an evaluation of the model is undertaken.

Tom Wallace, Development Manager of the LLTNP Community Partnership comments:

“This is one of what we hope will be many initiatives to encourage young people to live and seek employment within Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park. We are very grateful to Luss Estates, Forth Valley & Lomond LEADER and our many partners and advisors who have worked tirelessly to give these young people a taste of life working on a rural estate. I think this is a great example of how community partners can work effectively together to help young people get into work, and we’d like to see this model adopted in other rural areas. We hope that the six young people attending our Skills Week Programme will take away positive experiences, and that it will help them decide which career path is for them. We also hope that it has demonstrated the sheer scale and variety of career opportunities in the region, and the benefits of living and working locally. “

Iain Wilkinson, Rural Business Manager at Luss Estates Company.

“Informing young people about rural career opportunities is an essential step towards ensuring employers have access to young and enthusiastic individuals, both to preserve rural skills and ensure there are adequate resources to preserve and build our natural heritage. This Rural Skills Week at Luss Estates has given the participants a unique taster of the variety of roles within estate management. It was clear there was limited understanding of the job opportunities at first, but we hope that following the event, everyone involved has gained a better understanding of potential rural employment paths and the steps required to succeed.”

Kevin Patrick, Interim Director Lantra Scotland, the sector skills council for the land-based, environmental and aquaculture industries, comments:

“We have seen through research that there are many opportunities in our industry for 16-24 year olds living in rural Scotland. In fact, land-based industries are going to need around 30,000 new entrants by 2020, so there will be no shortage of jobs. However, for this to happen, we need to get the message across to young people living in rural areas that there are many opportunities to develop skills, attain qualifications and secure jobs on their doorstep. I think this Rural Skills Event has given us a glimpse of how this can work on a local level, and could be used in other rural areas across Scotland.”

Ronnie Campbell, one of the young trainees, commented:

“This week’s been a real eye opener for us all – and very inspiring. I never realised there were so many different types of jobs on an estate like this. Most young people I know just think they have to move away to get the kind of training and experience they need to get a job, but this week has shown that there are great opportunities right here.”

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