HighGround paves way for ex-service personnel to learn countryside skills

The rural land based sector offers a wide variety of career opportunities for ex-military personnel and reservists.

Kim John spent the day with recent recipients of CLA Charitable Trust funding HighGround, to find out how military personnel are learning new skills paving the way for future career opportunities within the rural sector.

It goes without saying that the rural sector has its challenges from changing weather, crop diseases and animal health to the public perceptions of farming methods and ever changing policy. The last year in particular has seen huge additional challenges with Brexit and the pandemic. In addition to these challenges (and in some parts caused by them) there’s a massive challenge in finding a reliable workforce willing to labour for long hours in all kinds of conditions.

It’s with thanks to organisations like HighGround, where opportunities are being opened up for ex-forces personnel to explore the options available to them for careers in agriculture and the wider land-based sector. Moreover, as employers, it’s up to you to consider them as potential employees.

Through the introduction of HighGround Rural Weeks, hosted at Devon’s Bicton College, HighGround combines classroom based presentations and visits covering farming, forestry, smallholdings, animal care, gamekeeping, horticulture, equine management and more for service leavers, reservists and veterans. Helping them to consider a second career in the farming sector.

Ex-servicemen and women are celebrated for their loyalty, dedication, resilience, hard-work attitude, leadership and sheer determination as well as displaying proven skills in engineering, planning and operations management – not to mention their ability to handle some pretty big machinery! All of these attributes are considered desirable skills when it comes to employing a farm worker, farming contractor, estate manager, gamekeeper, forester or other rural worker.

Rural Weeks have been developed by HighGround to give service leavers (those individuals still serving in HM armed forces but have started their resettlement process to make the transition back to civilian life) and veterans an overview of the land-based sector. What and where the employment and self-employment opportunities in each area of it are, how their military skills and experience map so perfectly into it and what tickets and qualifications they will need for each area.

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The sessions I attended were the first of its kind hosted by HighGround, designed for those slightly further from seeking employment, the group were given an insight into the various elements of rural employment whilst also benefitting from the mental health and wellbeing improvements the sessions provided. The sessions included horticulture, arboriculture and Forestry School. During my time with the group, I sat with them around the campfire where stories were shared, I talked with them about the issues faced in agriculture and in particular the issues surrounding farm labour. As they learned new skills be it scaling trees or learning plant names, realisations were made that the rural sector offers great opportunities for future employment. It was hoped by the HighGround team that these so called “light-bulb moments” would lead these men to future Rural Weeks and eventually, into employment within the land based sector.

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Attendees learned new skills, including bricklaying, horticulture, arboriculture and attended Forestry School.

Information available to service leavers when it comes to employment in the rural sector is somewhat limited and it is possible that huge opportunities are being passed by.

Are we not sharing the great opportunities we have to ex-forces men and women, or had we simply not considered this sector as a potential source of employees?

To find out more about Rural Weeks and how you may be able to help

The CLA recently ran a webinar “Forces to Farming” which set out further benefits of employing ex-servicemen and women in the rural sector.