9 July 1999

Searching for top talent…

Winners in this years Farm

Secretary of the Year

Competition were announced

at the Royal Show this

week. Robert Harris reports

IF your idea of a farm secretary is someone who manages to squeeze in a bit of typing between endless filing of nails, shuffles a couple of bits of paper around the office before chatting on the phone for hours, and spends the rest of the day clock-watching – think again.

Few secretaries would fit such a description these days; certainly, professional farm secretaries who attend specialist agricultural college courses are far removed from it.

These are highly trained office administrators prepared to tackle a range of tasks, from reducing mountains of paperwork to helping prepare farm budgets.

Each year, the Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators runs a competition to unearth such hidden talent. There are three categories. Qualified farm secretaries vie for the main prize, "Farm Secretary of the Year". There are also two sections for students; the mature student section for those aged 21 plus, and the Mary Collins award for younger participants.

Competitors are certainly put through their paces. Two written rounds sort out the best from the rest, and a final round is held at Lasham Woodland Training Centre in Hants.

Day of tests

This year, 15 entrants made it to the finals, travelling from all areas of the UK to face a day of tests. Judges, led by Ian Stockley, head of agriculture at Lloyds TSB, and Jenny Pine, chairman of the Institute of Agricultural Secretaries and Administrators, were looking for winners who possessed a good knowledge of agriculture, demonstrated good business skills and who could work well under pressure.

In the afternoon finalists literally took to the trees, where, under the watchful eye of Dave Shaylor, the training centres owner, they tackled a range of tasks. These were designed not only to test personal desire to succeed, but also the ability to work as part of a team, by testing communication and organisation skills.

As usual, the standards were impressive. Any farmer looking for extra help to run his business more effectively would have found a strong candidate in any of the finalists. &#42

FARM SECRETARY OF THE YEAR

LINDA Bratley, from Middleton on the Wolds, near Driffield, Yorks, has little spare time on her hands. She runs her own business – Agricultural Business Services – which she started in 1996. She now employs two people.

She is also an associate lecturer at Bishop Burton College, Beverley, teaching agricultural recording systems to students. Nevertheless, finding the time to enter the competition paid dividends, as she battled through tough competition to become this years Farm Secretary of the Year.

Linda trained at Bishop Burton too, studying business and finance. She has also been farm office manager there, no doubt drawing from earlier experience as a farm secretary on a 17,000 acre Cumbrian Estate.

So whats the attraction of the job? Being in demand, for a start, says Linda. "Many rural businesses need part-time help in their offices. This help needs to be professional, well-trained, flexible and skilled."

And it is not without its attractions, she adds. "In return, staff receive a unique working environment, involvement in many aspects of the business and the chanced to work for as many clients as they choose."

Linda wins a cheque for £500, a years RASE membership, Farmplan software, and the Black Horse trophy.

MATURE STUDENT WINNER

Having worked for several companies in the Brighton area for almost twenty years, Valerie Crampton, of Steyning, West Sussex, has had plenty of secretarial experience,.

However, she stopped working six years ago when she was expecting twins. Bringing them up kept her at home until last year, when she started a two-year course in business administration and rural studies at nearby Brinsbury College.

Agriculture is a new field. "I decided to retrain as a farm secretary because the job is interesting and provides the opportunity to be self-employed and to work flexible hours to accommodate family commitments," she says.

But more than once she has had to fight for the continued funding of her course, no easy task given demands of a young family.

Working on a large, mixed estate appeals. Given her determination there can be little doubt she will succeed in her new career.

Valerie wins £125, and a commemorative trophy.

Its a one-two for Brinsbury College with Helen Johnman coming a very close second in the mature student section. Helen has always been involved with agriculture, but stopped working on farms 15 years ago when she moved into the retail sector. Thats long enough – its time to make a comeback, she believes.

MARY COLLINS AWARD

West country representative Megan Pugsley, from Axminster, Devon, scooped first prize in this award for the under-21s. She has just finished a National Certificate for farm secretaries at Bicton College, adding to several word/text processing and computer qualifications.

Her choice of career may have foxed some friends. "None of them know what it entails," she says. But she relishes the challenges she has set herself.

"I hope to work in the agricultural industry as a mobile rural administrator. There is an increasing need for people like me to help farmers understand the complexity of paperwork surrounding all aspect s of the business." Farmers in the area should take note.

Megan wins £125, the Mary Collins trophy and a commemorative trophy for her troubles.

Runner-up Jacky Hardman runs her own agricultural and rural book-keeping business, Brendon Hills Farm Services, from Watchet, Somerset. She started her agricultural training at Cannington College, Somerset, where she obtained a string of qualifications. Jacky is now taking an MSc in agricultural business management at Seale-Hayne University, Devon.

Catherine Webster from Derbyshire was runner-up in the Mary Collins section. She has just finished a two-year course studying business and finance for agricultural secretaries at Brooksby College, Leics. She aims to continue working in the familys agricultural engineering business at Chellaston, Derbys.