Deputy First Minister’s Visit to Nairn

“An Exciting Model for the Future of Education” … Deputy First Minister, John Swinney telling us personally how much he appreciates what we at The Farmer Jones Academy (FJA) are doing with our pro-active approach to delivering over 40 Foundation Apprenticeships (FA’s) in Food and Drink Technology across the Highlands. This is the first time that FA’s in Food and Drink Tech. have been delivered on such a scale anywhere in Scotland since their introduction 3 years ago and by comparison only 6 young people started an FA in Food and Drink Technology last year.

John Swinney came to Nairn Academy to see for himself our innovative and unique partnership with Nairn Academy which is now being replicated in no less than 5 Highland Secondary School centres with a total of 8 schools now involved.

Mr. Swinney said that relationships between schools and employers had become “compartmentalised” in the past and added “We are all for breaking down those false compartments, because today’s school pupils are tomorrow’s employees, entrepreneurs and innovators”.

Personally, I couldn’t agree more and since the beginning of June when we started to work with our students, we have quickly realised that there is a huge wealth of untapped potential out there!

As one of our youngsters said to me this week “I can’t believe this is school … it’s so exciting to get started on my future career and who wouldn’t want to be in food and drink?”

What wasn’t reported in the press coverage of John Swinney’s visit to Nairn was our off the record conversations with other guests who came along to see for themselves the way we at FJA have developed our partnership working within the secondary school environment. We had visitors from Food and Drink Federation Scotland along with Highland Council, Education Scotland, Skills Development Scotland and a host of local businesses and voluntary groups.

The question we were asked most often on the day “how did you manage to sign up so many youngsters to this FA?” is easily answered in two words “hard work”. We have spent many hours out on the road going to school employment fairs, parents’ evenings, speaking to year groups, morning assemblies as well as countless head teachers, deputy heads and guidance teachers. From a standing start they have taken some convincing that FA’s are the way forward for some of their pupils and that Food and Drink is the most exciting (in my opinion) career choice anyone could make!

My business partner – Sarah Mackenzie is under no illusion about the challenges that we in FJA face, as we move forward and added “Something we have noticed in schools is how they perceive the food and drinks industry and the careers within it … there is a really bad perception that if you are not clever enough, then you go to work in a factory or become a waiter or waitress and nothing could be further from the truth”

She said … “We need those innovators and entrepreneurs in food and drink as the Scottish Government sets out to double the size of the industry over the next 10 years. With Brexit looming and a real lack of skilled workforce we need to get these young people trained and ready for the skilled jobs and opportunities that are waiting for them.”

Those youngsters who are already on the course are discovering a huge range of opportunities that they had never even heard of a few weeks ago.

They are also discovering skills and building confidence they didn’t know they had! They will also be gaining many transferable skills which they can use outside of the food and drink industry, if that is a direction they wish to follow.

So, whether it’s Farming, Fishing, Food or Drink – there are a whole host of opportunities out there for those who leave school in these various parts of the largest single industry in Scotland. As our own students say, “we love food and drink and who wouldn’t want work in this exciting industry?”

I’m sure everyone at FJA would echo that sentiment as we start on the recruitment trail for our 2020 intake of new students. 

@farmerjonesy