Borders College Agriculture student Alicja Blaz was featured in a recent National Farmers Union Scotland publication after securing an apprenticeship with George Brown and Son's Farm, based in East Lothian.
Alicja, from Ormiston, East Lothian, took on the Modern Apprenticeship role when she embarked on a complete career change, having previously studied an undergraduate degree in Criminology and Psychology from the Open University and later a master's degree in Public Policy at Stirling University.
Keen to move to a career working outdoors, she began her Agriculture journey at Borders College, before embarking on her apprenticeship with the farm.
Speaking about her career change, Alicja said:
“I was given the opportunity to research a topic of my interest during my master's degree. That is when I looked at the work of South of Scotland Enterprise and how in this region the Agricultural sector plays a major role in economic output. From there I was able to research more policies within the sector.
“However, I believe it's hard to fully comprehend how agricultural policies fail the sector without having experience of working there. I first tried to get onto the Pre Apprenticeship run by Borders Machinery Ring and luckily knowing people there has helped, which is how I got my details passed to Borders College and eventually my current employer.”
After struggling to find a suitable person for a vacant position, George Brown and Son's was approached by Borders College Agriculture assessor Kevin Pate, who suggested Alicja as a possible candidate for the role.
Farm owner Rob Brown commented:
“From day one Alicja has been a careful and conscientious employee, turning up sharp for work and being very careful when using the machinery. She mucked in and quite literally got her hands dirty, getting stuck into lambing and calving and having a go at sheep shearing.
“I think we have provided her with a wide variety of experiences working with cattle, sheep, and tractors. She is keen to learn, asking lots of questions and mastering all the technology.”
While studying at Borders College, Alicja was put through her forklift training and this has benefitted her and her employer to a greater extent. She has since put herself forward to do a three day AI course, funded by the Women in Agriculture Practical Training Fund.
Delighted to be given the opportunity, Alicja added:
“I found out I can definitely learn a lot more hands-on than from a book. It is definitely a changing experience for me after studying at university. Being able to have a stable income, opportunity for self-development and enjoy what I do is amazing.
“The apprenticeship had definitely made me believe in my abilities and what I can do. Looking back before I started working, I wouldn't have thought that I could drive a tractor with a trailer, work a forklift and probably even know half the tools I use now. I'm also glad I'm able to get first-hand experience of how agricultural policies affect my workplace and get a wide range of perspectives and solutions.”
George Brown and Son's were able to apply for a government grant to take on an apprentice, helping them fund Alicja’s 18-month contract as she goes through her apprenticeship. She will spend one day per month attending College throughout this time.
Rob Brown added:
“Bringing young people on to the farm brings fresh enthusiasm and when you are teaching someone it makes you look at what you are doing and ask if there is a better way which inspires fresh ideas.”
Rural Skills Curriculum and Learning Manager Mary Thomson said:
“Agriculture is a thriving and dynamic sector in the south of Scotland with many forward-thinking, sector leading farm businesses based here. Borders College supports local businesses by encouraging learners to initially take up a full-time course with work placement, progressing to a modern apprenticeship when they are ready.
“There are some brilliant career opportunities in Scottish agriculture, and learners could even progress to a global farming career. Borders College pathways into agriculture begin for learners as early as third year at high school. Alicja’s story demonstrates that a job in agriculture can be a fantastic choice at any stage in your career.”
If you are interested in a career in Agriculture, find out more about the courses offered at Borders College by clicking on the following link: www.borderscollege.ac.uk/course-search. If you are a farm business considering taking on a work placement student or apprentice please email Mary Thomson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Andrew Johnson at email@example.com