Farmer James Orr and team with Modern Apprentice Erica

Fife farmer James Orr (on the right of the picture) manages around 1500 acres near Cupar, growing potatoes, carrots, parsnips, broccoli, and cereals together with beef finishing cattle.

As well as four full-time staff, including a Modern Apprentice, he normally takes on seasonal workers to help with the broccoli harvest.

He believes strongly in the value of training for his team and in the benefits of the Modern Apprenticeship scheme.

“Our business revolves around our people, so providing the right training and investing in our staff is essential. We need to build the skills base to move our business forward, so we make sure that all our staff have annual reviews to identify areas that we need to develop, whether it’s for statutory or additional training.

In terms of what we spend on training, it’s actually a very small part of the overall budget, but it’s a really good investment and there are all sorts of areas that we’ve identified.

For example, training up our own staff on machinery maintenance means we can make major savings and the supervisory training that we’ve done pays off during the broccoli harvest. We work with a large team and having the right skillset in handling people is crucial to getting the best out of them.

Our business is all about providing the best quality product and service we can and it’s only through training that we can deliver it.

As an industry we need to acknowledge the fact that we need to invest more in our staff and by doing that we will attract new people into agriculture, who will be motivated and drive innovation.

Last year we took on a Modern Apprentice called Erica Taylor and she’s been great for the business. We needed new blood, as does much of the industry, to keep things moving forward, and our team were very willing to pass their knowledge and experience on to her.

Learning is largely work-based, with most of the training on the farm, alongside other members of staff. Erica’s time away is actually very limited, and training is geared around what we need at times that suit us.

Some people worry that taking on a Modern Apprentice might not be very productive at an early stage, but that’s not a situation that we’ve found. From day one we’ve had excellent value from Erica.

As far as wage levels are concerned, paying a person the right rate is an investment which they appreciate, and we do other things to reward our staff too for the hard work that they put in over the season.

I think in terms of the Modern Apprenticeship scheme from my experience so far it would certainly encourage me to repeat the process.

It’s not a significant cost, the training is provided away from farm at the right time of year, and the Modern Apprenticeship with its on-the-job training is a great way of getting new people into the industry.