Soil Association offers scheme for apprentices

Organic growers are being urged to offer work placements to trainees on the Soil Association's new apprenticeship scheme.

The Organic Apprenticeship Scheme, run in partnership with the Organic Growers' Alliance and Organic Advisory Service, is a two-year work-based programme offering practical training to anyone who wants to make a career in organic farming and growing.

Five apprentices, all horticultural, are entering their second year of a pilot scheme, and the Soil Association originally planned for a further 12 to start this autumn.

But the association's horticultural development manager Ben Raskin said that because of the poor year many growers have experienced, not as many had offered a placement as he had hoped.

Raskin added that the scheme was needed because of the current shortage of qualified and motivated staff in the UK.

"I know of five or six businesses that have been looking for growers for months," he explained. "And the demand (for staff) is only going to increase."

The placements are also open to anyone who wants to set up their own organic growing business.

Raskin said: "One aspect I am hoping to develop is post-apprentice support, because the next step after training can be very hard."

He added that the Soil Association's network could help new growers find land available to rent, for instance, or put them in touch with other growers for co-operative marketing.

Apprentice Will Johnson, 26, who is now in the second year of his apprenticeship at Coleshill Organics, based near Swindon, Wiltshire, said: "The scheme is a positive step towards trying to get more young people back to the land."

An open day was held this week (22 October) at Hawkwood College, Stroud, for would-be apprentices to find out about the scheme.

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