The Fresh Start Academy aims to encourage young people into the industry by creating a learning environment in which they can add to their skill base. Typically established in partnership with regional land-based colleges, the Academy acts as a “finishing school” for those with aspirations to work in farming and related industries.
Those targeting an entry into practical farming can access opportunities through an Academy by teaming up with retiring farmers in a unique matchmaking and training exercise, often guided by local land agents and specialist mentors.
Those seeking career opportunities elsewhere in the industry also get the chance to expand their network and to access local and national contacts.
The scheme, which began in East and West Sussex now covers Kent, via Hadlow College and Hampshire when the Sparsholt Academy opened in January. At least 15 centres should be in business nationwide by the end of this year – details are on the map opposite.
The Fresh Start Academy aims to provide a stimulating environment for potential agricultural entrepreneurs within which they can identify possible business opportunities. It is important to stress that it is equally applicable to would-be farmers as it is to those seeking careers as farm managers or in the supply or purchase sectors of the food chain.
A typical academy involves three elements – matchmaking, training and ongoing mentoring. Although attached to land-based colleges, the academies are structured round a number of regional and national stakeholders, all of which have a strong interest in rekindling interest in agriculture as a career and attracting bright, ambitious and committed new entrants.
The concept is designed to bring out the entrepreneurial spirit in potential new entrants, particularly those seeking opportunities to enter farming through partnerships, joint ventures or farming contracts. Few people targeting a career in agriculture are short of technical knowledge but business acumen is equally important and the year in the academy seeks to bring that to the fore.
Target audience for academy attendees includes young men and women who are probably two or three years out of formal further or higher education and career changers entering the industry who have developed, through experience, the knowledge and skill set to take on agriculture as a career option.
Academy candidates can be sons and daughters of farmers or those approaching agriculture as a first-generation entrant. There are no barriers and enthusiasm and a genuine interest in an agriculturally-related career are the qualifications.
There are not any examinations to sit or tests to run. However, as the national Fresh Start Academy movement gathers pace, we are looking at achieving a level of consistency among the academies. The creation of a Certificate of Participation will record that a delegate has attended the appropriate academy regularly and has benefited from its content.
Fresh Start Stakeholders have been very supportive as the academy project has rolled out. These include DEFRA, Barclays Bank, the NFU, the CLA, many firms of agricultural surveyors and consultants, RICS, CAAV, The Farmers Club and National Federation of Young Farmers’ Clubs, colleges, Business Links and, integral to the development of the first academies, the South East of England Development Agency (SEEDA) who have funded the co-ordinator’s role for the first four academies.
The Academy will deliver a 12-month, structured, training course covering a variety of aspects of farm business management embracing the agricultural, horticultural and forestry industries.
It will, via the land agent and consultant associates, attempt to identify opportunities and to establish partnerships: Share farming and other joint ventures between new entrants and retiring or outgoing farmers and landowners, or those who simply want to be less actively involved with the day to day farm management. The Academies have also helped members move up the career ladder from farm worker to management positions.
Where “new” businesses are involved, entrants will be supported, in the early stages, by a Business Mentor. Fresh Start believes the mentoring process is a vital cog in the wheel, providing an independent view of the developing business and a wise head for consultation.
So the Academy is providing potential new entrants with opportunities to top up their bank of knowledge and skills. The course of meetings and lectures create an environment in which to start thinking like a farming or rural business person. It promotes a practical approach and presents agriculture as a positive career move and re-engages participants with the learning process – leading to a greater awareness of the importance of Continuing Professional Development.
Topics covered in the academies include budgeting and business forecasting, earning money from environmental schemes, filling in and preparing a tenancy application, creating a business plan, marketing and co-operation, risk management and diversification.
However, candidates within each academy identify the annual programme needs themselves, ensuring that the training given is both appropriate to the region in which they operate and to the individual needs and aspirations of the members.
We set out a broad spectrum of content because we need the right people to get involved. It is important to bear in mind that those seeking a workable exit strategy from the farming industry through partnerships or joint ventures, need to have real confidence in the new entrant partners they plan to work with. There are real opportunities. What looks daunting to someone in their 60s, farming without succession, looks like a great challenge to a well-qualified 30 year old. We must try to bring the two sides of the farming business together and ensure that potential retirees have confidence in forming partnerships with new entrants.
The key to success is to ensure that an existing business operator seeking a share or joint venture partner is certain that he has someone able, mature and skilled in the business, as well as the technology, of farming. While the academy cannot create rural entrepreneurs in a year, it can hone the skills of those with natural aptitude and start them on what might well be a process of life-long learning to equip them for the owner-operator or senior manager role.