Big push for apprentices begins

An initiative to promote food and farming apprenticeships is gearing up for a big push to get fresh produce suppliers involved.

Richard Self, project manager at EDGE Apprentice-ships, which was set up by agricultural purchasing group Anglia Farmers, said: "Horticulture is big target area for us."

The scheme, which was launched this spring, is a partnership between employers, colleges and local authorities. It is part-funded by the Government.

"We have had an influx of enquiries from more traditional agriculture sectors but so far no horticultural companies have got on board," he told Grower.

But Self is currently seeking the support of several fresh produce suppliers and supermarkets.

"Employers are worried about getting good people into technical and supervisory roles," he said. "They find it's not a destination for those with GCSEs - they're not getting young people knocking on their doors anymore."

He said fresh produce has "relied on migrant labour instead, but there needs to be a balance".

Plans include events to raise awareness of apprenticeships among growers, and also a series of school visits by industry ambassadors to enthuse teachers, parents and pupils, Self added. Online video case studies are also in the pipeline.

"My target is to get 80 apprentices in food and farming this year, rising to 440 by March 2015," he added.

Initially confined to East Anglia, the scheme will roll out nationally if successful.

It has the backing of sector umbrella body the British Growers Association. Its chief executive James Hallett said: "It's a fantastic opportunity to bring in new people at a time when the industry has the potential to expand. There are plenty of opportunities there for bright young things - tractor drivers need to be technicians and agronomists these days, and are paid accordingly."

He added that discussions with growers "are very informal at the moment", but pointed out: "BAE alone has a thousand apprentices at any one time. That should be our ambition."

Fruit industry Apprenticeship scheme

The first two recruits on a three-year fruit industry apprenticeship scheme backed by Hadlow College, top fruit marketer Norman Collett and East Malling Research began work last month. Norman Collett originally agreed to fund one place but was impressed with the calibre of applicants that it agreed to fund a second place.

The two recruits - Ryan Williams and Adam Boxall - will spend a year gaining growing experience at East Malling Research, a technical year at Norman Collett, and a year focused on commercial skills and retail divided between Norman Collett and its retail partners.

Meanwhile Hadlow College will provide the two with short courses on specific skills. The college is also in talks with other potential sponsors with a view to recruiting up to five more apprentices.

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