Food and drink

Report highlights career opportunities in aquaculture

A new report has called for more promotion of Scotland’s aquaculture sector and supply chain as a rewarding long-term career choice, particularly for young people and for women.

The ‘Skills review for the Aquaculture Sector in Scotland’ was commissioned by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE) on behalf of the Aquaculture Industry Leadership Group (AILG), and in collaboration with Skills Development Scotland.

Carried out between July 2017 and January 2018, the study included consultations with stakeholders and employers in the sector and the supply chain, and an online survey of employers.

The report highlights key areas of specialism for future employees that go well beyond the boat handling, fish husbandry, fish feeding and biology skills normally associated with aquaculture.

As the sector and its supply chain grows, so too will demand for skills in engineering, digital and IT, as well as leadership and organisational management.

The report highlights a gender imbalance in the industry and education pipeline, and an ageing workforce. It recommends more promotion of the sector as a career opportunity for school leavers, graduates and other potential recruits.

Training and education should be accessible to learners whether they are full time or in employment.  The study encourages the industry to enhance work based learning and vocational training, and ensure this is accessible to industry employees across the country, particularly in rural areas.

The report further recommends more consistency in training to create accredited industry standards that are transferable across the sector, and the development of a digitally enabled workforce.

The geography in Scotland, and the Highlands and Islands specifically, provides a natural advantage for the farming of finfish and shellfish. The sector is already worth around £620m to the Scottish economy and supports many vital jobs in remote island and rural communities in the Highlands and Islands.

As well as being a driver of growth in the Highlands and Islands, the sector’s reach and supply chain extends across Scotland, with many processing, distribution and export operations located in, for example, Aberdeenshire, the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway.

There is general consensus that aquaculture in Scotland has the potential to grow significantly in the coming years, in line with increasing global demand for fish and shellfish. One of the challenges to ensure this growth is the availability of a suitably skilled workforce to meet recruitment demands of aquaculture firms.

Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing said: “This report highlights the importance of developing and retaining a well-trained and highly motivated skills force. For a sector that has a significant / . . . focus on sustainable growth in the future, it is clearly becoming even more important to be accessible and to be an employer of choice.

“I look forward to future discussions around how we might look to achieve those aspirations and how we can break down any potential barriers as aquaculture has a key role to play in our economic ambitions, not least through innovation and the provision of highly skilled STEM job roles.”

Morven Cameron, HIE’s head of universities, education and skills, said:

“To realise the growth potential in Scotland’s aquaculture sector we need to make sure we have a suitably skilled workforce big enough to meet the recruitment needs of industry employers.

“This report is extremely valuable in that respect. It sets out the skills and recruitment challenges facing the industry and makes recommendations as to how these might be addressed.

“Recognising the extent of aquaculture activity in rural and island communities, there is a strong argument for some training provision to be based in these areas.

“As we go forward it is crucial that public agencies, the industry and academic institutions work together to ensure we have the skills and workforce necessary to enable Scotland to benefit from the aquaculture industry’s growth potential.”

Stewart Graham, managing director of aquaculture firm, Gael Force, and co-chair of the Industry Leadership Group, said:

“This is an excellent report born out of one of the industry’s Lead Recommendations in the Aquaculture Growth to 2030 strategy. It highlights as we might have expected, the existing incredible diversity of high quality jobs and careers in Scottish aquaculture. However more importantly, the report sets out the wonderful opportunities the industry presents now and going forward to 2030 for new entrants especially women and young people.

“We are aware in the production sector and the supply chain of the ever more sophisticated, science, engineering and digital technology being deployed in fish farming and its suppliers like my own company too. We look forward in the AILG to progressing an action plan to implement the recommendations and bring aquaculture to the fore, when people are considering a long-term career choice, to encourage more women and young people into our growing and exciting industry and to ensure awareness in our schools and further education institutes is much higher alongside the provision of much more training and learning opportunities to support and develop our workforce.”

Gerry McBride, strategic relations manager with Skills Development Scotland, added: “SDS is keen to work with industry partners and stakeholders to take forward the recommendations of the skills research and support the development of an action plan.”

The ‘Skills review for the Aquaculture Sector in Scotland’ report and executive summary can be found on HIE’s website at www.hie.co.uk/aquacultureskills

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