Rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing launched the campaign yesterday. Photo: FFE.

Aquaculture talent hunt can fire imaginations, says minister

A new campaign aimed at making young people aware of the varied and rewarding career choices in aquaculture can “light a fire” in their imaginations, Scotland’s rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing believes.

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The minister was speaking at the launch of the campaign, called A New Wave of Talent, in the Engine Shed in Stirling yesterday.

Ewing said the campaign, which features short films of seven people whose work is linked to aquaculture in different ways, was “absolutely terrific”.

A great sector

“We want to get a message across to young people in Scotland that this is a great sector, industry, venture, mission – you name it, it’s all these things – to be involved in, and the way to do that is to reach out directly to young people, and you’re going to do that,” said Ewing.

“The idea behind that was best summed up by the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, and he said something that’s really stuck with me, which is that the purpose of education is not to fill a bucket [with facts], it’s to light a fire.

“The purpose if this venture, A New Wave of Talent, is to take it around directly to young people and inspire them to light a fire, in the sense of in their minds saying ‘That sounds good, that sounds exciting, I want to know more about that’.”

Cutting edge of innovation

Ewing said fish farming was at the cutting edge of innovation, but that young people didn’t know about the opportunities in the industry because the mainstream media rarely reported those facts, and a negative message of social media could become “a little pool of misery”.

“Nonetheless, we can put the positive message across, and the exciting thing about this (campaign) is that it is a tool to do that throughout Scotland and get through particularly to kids in communities that are interested. The success story of salmon farming in Scotland has been tremendous, from a standing start just a few decades ago to an annual turnover of a billion pounds.”

A New Wave of Talent is the result of cooperation between the Scottish Aquaculture Innovation Centre (SAIC), rural skills organisation Lantra Scotland and Women in Scottish Aquaculture (WiSA).

The first stage of the campaign has involved the making of seven short films featuring young people in different aquaculture-related roles.

They are:

  • Kurk Jones, farm manager for Mowi
  • Ivana Russo, assistant formulator for BioMar
  • Andrew Richardson, Erasmus Mundus ACES Masters Student, SAMS-UHI and now an employee of French insect-based protein supplier InnovFeed
  • Valentina Romano, assistant farm manager for trout farmer Dawnfresh
  • Janis Brivkalns, marine operative for the Scottish Salmon Company
  • Darren Fleming, maintenance supervisor for BioMar
  • Marie Smedley, senior breeding programme manager for St Andrews-based genetics company Xelect Ltd

All of the films can be seen by clicking on the names above.   

More flexibility

After Ewing’s speech, Mowi learning and development manager Donald Waring, Scottish Salmon Company HR director Debra Nichol Storie and Scottish Sea Farms’ head of HR Tracy Bryant-Shaw were joined by Dawnfresh production director Alison Hutchins and Stirling University academic Sophie Fridman on a panel to answer questions from the audience.

Asked the industry had any challenges or opportunities unique to women, the panel said there was a need for more flexible working policies to encourage women into the industry.

High housing cost

The posts that were most difficult to fill were farm technician roles in remote areas where workers were hard to find. It was difficult to attract new people to the areas because of the high cost of rural housing, something the companies are trying to tackle. 

SSC and SSF are looking at cooperating on providing child minding to recruit women workers as farm technicians.

In terms of getting the industry’s message out, the campaign has been featured in Aberdeen’s Press and Journal newspaper, and companies are being encouraged to promote the videos on their own websites and social media outlets. The campaign’s organisers are speaking to high schools, Developing the Young Workforce, Skills Development Scotland and chambers of commerce about how they can reach as wide an audience as possible.

Several of the host companies will also be using the full suite of videos at careers events, etc, and will be shown by corporate communications teams in Denmark and France.

Mary Fraser, SAIC’s head of skills, urged people to spread the word, and keep telling about the industry’s career opportunities.

“Look for the hashtag #bethenewwave,” said Fraser.