From left: SSF Shetland regional manager Richard Darbyshire with Professor Caroline Argo and SRUC skills and lifelong learning director Mary Thomson during a tour of two fish farms last year.

College to pilot new training with Scottish Sea Farms staff

SRUC project seeks to enhance data skills and fish health knowledge


Fish farm technicians, fish vets, and students are to be offered training from Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) under a plan developed in conjunction with salmon producer Scottish Sea Farms and part-funded by the UK government.

The Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) has awarded almost £39,000 to SRUC for the £58,000 initiative to develop and pilot accredited courses. These courses will provide enhanced data skills and fish health training.

During the one-year pilot project:

  • veterinary continuing professional development (CPD) courses will be available to vets across the sector and UK-wide;
  • technician training will be piloted with Scottish Sea Farms technicians;
  • undergraduate skills development will be offered to SRUC students – particularly those studying Rural Animal Health and Animal Science.

On-the-job learning

SRUC has employed 10 new staff for a new School of Veterinary Medicine. Instead of being campus-based like traditional vet schools, the SRUC will operate on a dispersed model, where students go out to veterinary practices to do most of their learning.

The pilot courses will be offered via blended delivery, maximising the use of SRUC’s virtual learning environment to ensure course materials are accessible to workers in remote coastal communities. The college is aiming to recruit a minimum of 12 attendees to each of the pilot programmes.

At the end of the pilots, the plan is for the courses to be made more widely available.

A very different lifestyle

Last year Professor Caroline Argo, dean of SRUC’s North faculty, and vet and SRUC director of skills and lifelong learning Mary Thomson, visited Scottish Sea Farms’ Shapinsay and Wyre farms in Orkney. They were hosted by SSF’s head of veterinary services Ronnie Soutar and Shetland regional manager Richard Darbyshire.

“They seemed to be impressed with the professionalism of the sector,” Soutar told the company’s newsletter, The Source.

“They are more used to beef and sheep farming in Scotland, which tend to be family run businesses. Aquaculture is a very different lifestyle, with all the benefits of working in a bigger organisation.

“The sector needs good people coming in to meet the increasingly complicated requirements of the job, post-Brexit, and to replace EU fish vets who have decided to leave the UK.”

Making jobs attractive

He said the SRUC was looking to establish partnerships in aquaculture where students will come out to farms and learn about fish health care.

“It’s not just about creating a pool of vets, it’s about making veterinary jobs attractive, and I think we do that,” he added.

Argo told The Source that sea farming practice was “truly inspirational” and the sector and the people working with it “utterly memorable”.

Three projects

The SRUC is one of three organisations in Scotland to benefit from Defra seafood sector grants announced last week. The others are:

  • University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) Shetland awarded approximately £186,000 as part of a £249,000 project to develop courses aimed at supporting innovation and the future sustainability of the sector. The courses will be developed with UHI West Highland through two workstreams that target both those of school age and those working in or entering the aquaculture sector.

This project will:

  • partner with industry and schools to pilot two courses aimed at introducing 13 to 16 year-olds to the seafood sector and seafood careers, as well as a course to help 16 to 18 year-olds transition into the seafood industry. These courses will also be usable by new adult entrants to the seafood sector
  • pilot a course bringing the latest science, policy and best practice in sustainability to workers and entrants to the aquaculture sector
  • provide online delivery to address access barriers commonly faced by remote coastal communities