We are really lucky in that all of us working for the North York Moors get to be paid for spending part of our working time (some more than others!) in our beautiful national park. Judging by the numbers of applicants that we get for many of our roles, it seems as if lots of other people agree as well.
We recruit a variety of people at different levels. We take on trainees from apprentices through to undergraduate placements and post-graduate trainees. We also need experienced people from a variety of disciplines to join our Conservation and Ranger teams.
Job roles for experienced staff range from practitioner level, being out there working directly with people and making things happen on the ground, through to managerial posts. While the knowledge needed to carry out these different roles may be similar, the way in which this is used and the skills required can be very different.
From what we see, Countryside Management and more specialist degrees tend to equip graduates well academically, but one area is consistently lacking - basic, practical farming knowledge. The work that many of our staff do involves working with landowners and farmers. It can be tricky to establish good working relationships and credibility without a solid understanding of agricultural practice. If we’re asking farmers/landowners to do particular things, which meet our own targets and aims, it’s helpful to know their viewpoints and aims too.
In managerial posts, the emphasis now is on finding resources and developing partnerships to enable others to achieve practical outcomes on the ground. Increasingly we need our countryside managers to have skills in finding sources of external funding, be adept at managing a mixed workforce of paid staff and volunteers, and look to academic institutions to help us with research that we want doing in addition to the technical knowledge that would have made them a sound practitioner.
The purpose of our apprenticeships is to give people, usually school leavers, the chance to bridge the gap between education and the working environment, and to learn practical countryside management skills that will enable them to get a job in the local economy after they leave us.
We have developed our apprenticeship scheme with the local jobs market in mind, so we look to give a solid grounding in practical skills such as basic woodworking, building skills, fencing, the rudiments of dry stone walling, planting, spraying, chainsaw certification, and plenty of practice! At this stage, we don’t need anything from our apprentices other than basic English and Maths plus a real enthusiasm for the countryside and working outside in all weathers, by that we really mean the cold, wind and rain – too much sunshine isn’t often an issue!
The main obstacle for us in recruiting apprentices is in the lack of understanding in schools about what apprenticeships can offer school leavers. Schools are obviously keen to fill their sixth forms and while apprenticeships don’t suit everybody, all students should have information about what they can offer in terms of developing skills, earning money and the jobs that they can lead to. There are certainly improvements and Government is legislating to ensure that apprenticeships feature strongly in careers advice, but for the time being we spend as much time as we can championing apprenticeships, going to schools careers events, talking in school assemblies etc.
The world of apprenticeships is changing rapidly as is the way in which they are funded – we are leading a group of other employers from around the country who are working up a standard for ‘Countryside Worker’ apprenticeships. When this is completed and the new standard approved by Government, it will be the national standard for countryside apprenticeships. Anybody interested in finding out a bit more about this should contact Ian Nicholls firstname.lastname@example.org.
We take on a graduate trainee in our conservation team every two years – the post is designed to be a ‘first job’ post-qualification and we look to give a range of experience, working with our ecologists, grants team, woodland officer, river officers and so on. While we will certainly look to the graduate to do some productive work for us, there is considerable scope for them to manage their own training and develop skills and knowledge in the areas that interest them.
Typically we will get a couple of hundred applications for the role. Most applicants have a good academic background and an increasingly large percentage will have a second degree. The best applicants always have something different to offer for example, they will have managed to find a way of getting some work experience, they might have worked on a farm, worked directly with landowners, interacted with a wide range of people, worked extensively either as a volunteer or with volunteers and so on.
Our experience in delivering grant schemes suggest that there is still a shortage of contractors with traditional skills – for example, dry stone wallers are in considerable demand and there is pressure on the experienced wallers to deliver work with many having long order lists. Many of the wallers are older and there don’t seem to be enough younger people wanting to take this on as an occupation. It is a similar picture with traditional building skills, using local stone and lime mortar techniques, and so there are definitely opportunities for people with the right skills. It is certainly difficult for small businesses to set up apprentice schemes, but one of our aims over the next couple of years is to work with employers in our patch to try to make this happen.