Suffolk/Norfolk: County divide in take-up of EDGE farm apprentice scheme as Suffolk lags behind

Edge apprenticeships in food and farming is celebrating it's one year anniversary.
L-R Jennifer Woodhatch , Richard Self, Angela Carter. Edge apprenticeships in food and farming is celebrating it's one year anniversary. L-R Jennifer Woodhatch , Richard Self, Angela Carter.

Saturday, March 8, 2014
6:00 AM

An apprenticeship scheme aimed at bringing more youngsters into agriculture-related careers is doing better in Norfolk than in Suffolk, figures reveal.

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Edge apprenticeships in food and farming is celebrating it's one year anniversary.
L-R Jennifer Woodhatch , Richard Self, Angela Carter.Edge apprenticeships in food and farming is celebrating it's one year anniversary. L-R Jennifer Woodhatch , Richard Self, Angela Carter.

The EDGE apprenticeship scheme, which this week marked its first anniversary with a celebration at Otley, has so far been embraced with enthusiasm in Norfolk in its first 12 months but organisers want to bring more employers and more youngsters south of the border into the scheme.

To date, around 157 Norfolk employers and around 50 Suffolk ones have taken in apprentices through the project.

Meanwhile around 65 or 66 apprentices have come on board in Suffolk compared to more than 140 in Norfolk so far. The target is 440 across the two counties over two years to March 2015, said Easton and Otley College partnership manager Ches Broom.

“We have probably got 50% more recruitment in Norfolk than we have in Suffolk but I do think a lot of it is people’s perception of the industry,” she said. “People just assume it’s going to be cold, wet, hard work with long hours and low pay.”

Edge Apprenticeships one year on celebrations at Stanaway farm, Otley. Demo by Ian Caley from AtlasFram of its new UAV, or drone helicopter,  for use by farmers.Edge Apprenticeships one year on celebrations at Stanaway farm, Otley. Demo by Ian Caley from AtlasFram of its new UAV, or drone helicopter, for use by farmers.

The reality was very different, she added, and many were surprised at the levels of pay and the career opportunities once they knew more.

She said the disparity between the figures could be down to Suffolk having larger farms and less, although larger, livestock operations, which are more labour-intensive.

With the Easton and Otley college campuses now merged, things were changing, she said, but where Easton had majored on farming, Otley had diversified in other directions, although it was returning to its farming and horticulture roots.

“In Suffolk we have had to open people’s eyes a bit more to what the industry can deliver for them.”

Richard Self, project manager at EDGE Apprenticeships, said there were also around 50 EDGE ambassadors taking the message out, and the scheme was now moving into areas such as Essex, Cambridgeshire and the eastern counties as a whole. The brand had worked well, although because the scheme was slow to get started in the initial months, it had underspend its targets. Areas EDGE has been exploring include employing apprentices and letting employers take them on on a contract basis.

More than 30 guests attended the celebrations at Stanaway Farm at Otley to hear about how the project is working to get more young people on agricultural work-based learning placements.

The EDGE (standing for Educate, Develop, Grow and Employ) scheme is being backed by a number of groups across the region, including Suffolk and Norfolk County Councils, and is being run by agricultural purchasing groups Anglia Farmers and AtlasFram Group, New Anglia LEP and Easton and Otley College.

Since being set up, almost 200 young people have signed up to be involved in a diverse range of food and farming careers via EDGE. Many other industry partners have also supported the EDGE mission.

Vice principal of Easton and Otley College, Angela Carter, said: “We are delighted to be an active partner in this great initiative as we are passionate about supporting training opportunities in agricultural and land-based industries.

“That was one of our key missions since merging Easton and Otley College back in August 2012.

“It’s important that we work closely with our partners in industry to encourage learners to seriously consider a career in farming. This apprenticeship programme can only help our long-term mission of serving the needs of the agricultural industry across the Eastern region and beyond.

“One year on, the EDGE scheme has gone incredibly well – but we need to continue this work by encouraging employers, industry and young apprentices to get involved in this wonderful scheme.”

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