There is little doubt the farming and rural sectors are in trouble with most sources agreeing there will be a 60,000 shortage of personnel within 10 years if the present workforce continues to dwindle.
Doing nothing is not an option and for some of the “big hitters” in the industry it is a case of taking matters into their own hands.
Members of machinery ring Ringlink attending the organisation’s annual meeting heard that the in-house internship scheme has been a success and will continue into a third year.
Rebecca Geraghty, director of the Home Grown Cereals Authority, also told the meeting that the levy-funded body is making serious inroads into the problem through its own initiatives.
These support apprenticeships, research students, doctorates and the training of agronomists through HGCA’s Bright Crop Initiative.
Graham Bruce, managing director of Ringlink, told the members that six interns had completed a six-month training spell with mentor farmers last year which was the first year of the scheme.
This year 15 interns had been selected out of 40 applicants with 12 completing the programme.
For next year he plans to offer another 12 places but warned that although Ringlink was completely committed to the concept it needed a longer term planning.
The interns, mostly 16 and 17-year-olds, receive a two-week induction course heavily skewed towards health and safety.
They then spend between six and eight months on a farm or within a rural business being mentored by the business owner or a senior member of staff.
The idea is to provide a practical introduction to the chosen sector with the expectation it will act as springboard to further training or employment.
“This is not a cheap process and next year’s programme will cost £93,000,” Mr Bruce said.
“We still have £50,000 to raise and have tremendous support from our sponsors including HGCA.
“But we need to have a longer term plan and I would like to see five years of funding through the Leader regional development programme so we could employ a full-time person to run the scheme and roll it out across Scotland.
“The present scheme is expensive in terms of our time but also the mentors’ time.
“Because this is not a recognised apprenticeship scheme full Scottish Agricultural Wages Board hourly rates apply.
“To help the mentors afford the scheme and compensate for the amount of time spent on training and supervision we subsidise the hourly rate but this would not be sustainable on a larger scale.
Keir Mudie, 16, from Arbroath, told the meeting he had benefited from an internship as a trainee gamekeeper at Fettercairn Estates with the Carnegie family.
“I don’t come from a farming or estate background but I knew that I wanted to be a gamekeeper and working with the head keeper and his assistant has given me a lot of great experience,” he said.
Hugh Black from Backboath, Carmyllie, said acting as a mentor for 15-year-old Stefan Isaacs had been very worthwhile.
“It has been areal pleasure to see Stefan turning up every morning on time and rearing to go,” he said.
“It does take time to supervise and train an intern and damage to machinery may increase a little at the start but Stefan has risen to the challenge.
“He stacked every one of the tattie boxes off 250 acres and drove off 10 loads of grain with a new tractor without spilling a drop.
“Some 90% of the workforce on farms, including farmers is aged over 40 years of age and 30% is over 65. That is a bad situation and we have to do something about it.”