The Commission has sought to review learning in Scotland’s land-based and aquaculture sectors - from early years to adulthood in order to provide independent, evidence-based advice to Scottish Ministers. The aim of the work is to help deliver a just transition to net-zero, by ensuring the learning system equips people with the skills and knowledge both they and the Sector requires and that the workforce is sufficient.
The term ‘land-based’ has long been used to collectively describe the range of different industries which use land and the marine environment to produce food and renewable resources. It has also encompassed what have in the past been seen as key supporting roles such as engineering, equine and environmental conservation. Collectively these industries utilise and manage the majority of Scotland’s land and coastal areas and have the largest impact on our environment. More recently, the land-based industries have also been included within ‘Green Careers’ recognising the key role the Sector plays in nature restoration, climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Regardless of their collective definition, the wide variety of career opportunities available across all of the Sector’s industries reflect the specialist skills and knowledge required to produce food and raw materials from our natural environment in a safe and sustainable manner. This includes the need to manage land in a way that continues to provide a range of ecosystem services such as flood protection, pollination and opportunities for recreation. The recent increase in the number of skilled workers needed to meet long term Scottish climate and biodiversity targets also presents an opportunity to improve wellbeing and increase our national connection with nature.
Yet across the Sector, businesses are experiencing workforce shortages and struggling to recruit. Given their importance in terms of food and materials production, addressing the nature and climate crises and supporting rural communities and the economy, it is imperative that we find solutions which attract more entrants, widen the pool of applicants, and increase training opportunities. There is also a clear need to contribute to the ‘Skills delivery landscape’ independent review to ensure the effective development of the workforce.
Many of the employers within the Sector are micro, small, or medium sized enterprises (SMEs), with a small number of employees (if any). The available labour market intelligence (LMI) across the Sector often lacks sufficient detail which makes labour demands difficult to determine. The nature of the businesses involved means they have little time to grapple with the intricacies of funding rules and requirements, whilst the supporting education, training and career options (‘pathways’), can be a confusing mixture of acronyms, course details and choices. Individual industry sector skills groups often provide the main source of available sector specific insights and interventions.
The Commission has identified some of the key areas and opportunities which could attract learners, support more adult returners and increase uptake by underrepresented groups. Their recommendations span a breadth of organisations, levels, and approaches, commensurate with the diversity of challenges faced by the Sector.
But it isn’t just about recruitment, ‘learning outdoors’ has long been recognised as vital for wellbeing as well as an effective strategy to support environmental and related Learning for Sustainability (LfS) education in early years and primary school. There is however a lack of consistency in the access of learners to opportunities to engage with learning outdoors, particularly within secondary schools. There is a need to establish clear progressive experiences for nature-based learning across all levels of Curriculum for Excellence (CfE).
The practical challenges for schools are recognised but funding for greater school/college partnerships could support this. Such interventions could broaden interest among pupils and teachers and increase understanding of the impact the Sector has on the environment (and vice versa) and help to better communicate the positive job roles within. It could also help to retain key further education curriculum expertise during recruitment fluctuations.
The Sector has had a broad range of curricular and vocational programmes from Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF) level 4 to level 12 which have historically addressed the needs of most land-based career pathways. Many of these have become outdated, do not fully reflect modern industry needs and often have a low uptake. Over time there has been a reduction in the delivery of some of the more expensive practical programmes and access for learners has significant regional variation as a result. Any further reductions in the availability of land-based education and training facilities would be a significant concern to the land-based industries affected and would be very difficult if not impossible to replace.
Education providers, Skills Development Scotland (SDS), the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA), the Scottish Funding Council (SFC) and successor organisations need to work more collaboratively with the Sector to ensure small, but high impact programmes meet industry needs and have sustained support even if uptake numbers are relatively low.
It is recognised that in a time of low unemployment and particularly post-EU exit, every employment sector is seeking to better inform and gain greater access to the key influencers: teachers, parents and the formal career service. For the voice of relatively niche areas to be heard, there is a need to ‘re-frame’ what the land-based industries can offer young people and career changers. The often-negative perceptions need to be addressed by a clearer coordinated and innovative communication strategy.
Employers, who are often small micro businesses, must also reflect on how they can change working practices and conditions to demonstrate career opportunities which embrace competitive ‘fair work’ and greater diversity to compete with the opportunities presented by larger, more recognised, industries.
Collectively, we need to more clearly explain the role of the Sector in helping to tackle the twin nature and climate emergencies. Only through the promotion of land management approaches that deliver increased biodiversity, carbon sequestration and habitat connectivity whilst also sustaining food and materials production will we be able to present the true range of opportunities in which new recruits can play their part.
Hence throughout this report the Sector and its associated industries as deliberately referred to as ‘nature based’, not to replace the names used by the diverse industries within the Sector, nor to shift the focus from their unique character and requirements. It was instead employed as the most effective way to connect the industries together as each works in and with nature. The term has been used effectively by NatureScot and aligns with the ‘green careers’ associated with the transition to net zero. Though it is acknowledged that further research and consultation is required before use is extended.
The changes recommended are not straightforward but are achievable. They won’t occur overnight, and hence a joined up strategic policy approach is required, which avoids duplication of strategies, effort and cost and one which should lead to tangible benefits for the Sector and the Scottish economy.
We are not starting from scratch. A range of effective collaborative initiatives are evident within the Sector and the opportunity to build upon these is essential as further climate policies and rural strategies emerge. The pace of change can be unsettling and it is only by working together that positive changes can be effectively implemented.
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