AKVA group Scotland general manager Jason Cleaversmith makes a presentation at the Aquaculture Careers event. Photo: Denny Conway/Institute of Aquaculture

Careers event is just the job for aquaculture students

The rich rewards, zig-zag pathways and frustrating stumbling blocks that can all be part of working in aquaculture were outlined at a well-attended careers event at Stirling University’s Institute of Aquaculture yesterday.

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Ben Hadfield was the opening speaker: Photo: Denny Conway

Marine Harvest Scotland managing director Ben Hadfield was the opening speaker, and he urged students wanting to get into management positions to get substantial industry experience after completing their degrees.

“If you can finish your MSc, you need two years in farming, or a year in farming. Don’t go and do three months, that’s a gap year, that’s something you do for entertainment. Go and work in a farm or a hatchery or a processing facility for a year or two years,” said Hadfield, who said he been obsessed with fish as a child.

“Then go and try being a farm manager for a cycle of fish. If you want to grab my attention with your cv for me to give you a management job, you need an MSc, you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to take on responsibility for a crop of fish or a key activity within farming, then do four years of technical management, then you can have my job.

“Don’t forget that this is a business, and any business has to have strategy, it has to have finance, and if you can do all this but you can’t do business, you can’t do finance, you can’t do strategy, you’ll probably stay in a technical role. You don’t have to be an expert in finance, but you have to read about it and understand it.”

Ian Berrill, of the Scottish Salmon Producers’ Organisation, said the industry employed 2,250 people directly, and that productivity worked out at 80 tonnes per person, with a farm gate value of £300,000 per person.

“Don’t be afraid to start at the bottom,” said Berrill. “As soon as you are identified as a candidate that wants to progress, you will get the opportunity.”

Jason Cleaversmith, general manager of aquaculture equipment supplier AKVA group Scotland, outlined his own varied career path and emphasised the pace of technological advances. He told the students: “Change will be a constant in the industry that we work in.”

Philip Lyons: Easy transition. Photo: Denny Conway

Stirling alumnus Philip Lyons, a research scientist for aquafeed manufacturer Coppens, part of Alltech, also recounted his passion for fish – and fishing – as a child.

After earning a BSc in Freshwater and Marine Biology in Galway, he went on to do a Masters in Aquaculture Biology then a PhD in Fish Health at Stirling, before moving directly to Coppens.

“The training I received here facilitates an easy transition into the industry,” he said.

Lyons advised students to be prepared to travel because the aquaculture industry is growing so quickly.

Janina Zuleica Costa, another Stirling alumnus, outlined her post-doctorate career in research. She is currently employed on a contract at the Moredun Research Institute, Penicuik, but that is a short-term project.

“If you want to work in academia, you will always have the questions ‘who knows?’ [where the next job is coming from],” she said.

Two other former Stirling students to speak were Julio Lopez, who at one stage used his knowledge to run a fish farm in the Canary Islands and is now key account manager for aquaculture medicines supplier Elanco, and James Deverill, commercial director of Cargill Aqua Nutrition Scotland.

“If a job is in front of you, take it,” Deverill, who started his industry career installing farm management software for AKVA, told students.

Athina Papadopoulou: "Inspiring" presentations. Photo: Denny Conway

Ralph Bickerdike, head of fish health at Scottish Sea Farms, said 13 years at feed producer BioMar had taught him a new range of skills before his move into his current role.

He added: “The industry really does need more fish health and welfare personnel.”

Other contributors included Michelle Elliott of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA), and Tom Ashton of St Andrews-based genetics firm Xelect.

Aquaculture Students’ Association president Athina Papadopoulou, who organised the careers event along with fellow students Joana Moura, Elizabeth Buba and Carolina Fernandez, was delighted by the success of this year’s event. “We had more than 150 people registered, and all the presentations were really inspiring. We can see the different pathways the students can take: remember to network, don’t forget to work hard even if you have to start at the bottom and go up the ladder. There is always a way to find your dream job.”

The careers day also had stands with representatives from firms such as Marine Harvest, the Scottish Salmon Company and trout producer Dawnfresh, all happy to help students with enquiries about careers.

“We had 14 stands this year which is the most ever,” said Papadopoulou.

“I would like to thank Coppens, the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre and the Institute of Aquaculture for sponsoring the event and my colleagues in the ASA.”