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Providing skills support for rural businesses

Katie Fox, Skills Planning Manager for Rural Economy at SDS, tells us about the new Rural Employers Toolkit and how it can support employers to recruit and grow the skills they need.

I recently visited the WeeCOOK Kitchen in Carnoustie for the launch of the Rural Employers’ Toolkit, and what an incredible place it was. I don’t think we could have picked a better example of the rewards that can be realised by investing in your workforce and bringing new talent into your business.   

The Rural Employers’ Toolkit is a practical guide, developed by partners at Lantra Scotland to support the implementation of the priorities set out in the Skills Action Plan for Rural Scotland (SAPRS).

Rural Toolkit

Lantra has experience of designing toolkits including the agricultural toolkit and the forestry induction pack so they were a great partner to lead on this development on behalf of the Implementation Steering Group for the SAPRS.

The toolkit has been designed to help rural employers, many of whom are small micros, better understand what’s involved in taking on an apprentice or offering a work placement and internship opportunities. It’s packed full of case studies, tips about mentoring, and information about what funding and support is available to help with this.   

At a time when there are so many opportunities to bring new talent into your business through partner activity such as the Young Person’s Guarantee and the Highlands and Islands Graduate Support Programme, the toolkit can really help small rural businesses understand how they can get involved.   

But in addition to the practical side of the toolkit, we also wanted it to highlight the benefits of investing in your workforce. And that’s where the launch at WeeCOOK comes in…

WeeCOOK kitchen – a small business in Carnoustie offering a restaurant, café and takeaway, and specialising in the most fabulous award-winning pies – have a wonderful story to tell about how apprentices can help to drive forward businesses. 

You only need to spend a couple of minutes with Hayley Wilkes, chef and owner at WeeCOOK, to see the passion she has not only for her craft but also the young people she’s developing. She’s brought four apprentices into the business and their energy, enthusiasm and charisma was almost palpable on entering their lovely little café in Barry Downs. 

There was such a buzz about the place. The incredible smells from the kitchen, the produce on display (not to mention the silverware – but more on that later), staff busy packaging up orders for courier collection.  Laughter as the apprentices busily went about their business – and such a pride to tell us about their journey so far and talk about the products they help to make. 

For me, someone who talks so frequently about the value of work-based learning, I can’t tell you what a pleasure it was to see the WeeCOOK apprentices in action.  A wonderfully positive example of the type of business we should be celebrating - a small rural entrepreneur who has created career pathways for young people to stay and develop a craft skill in their own community, all the while making incredible food using local produce and providing a service for people living in the area.  


Wee Cook

Small businesses are the backbone of rural communities and have so much to offer, so much to share with young people looking for experience in the world of work. WeeCOOK’s story is one of resilience, diversification and a passion for work-based learning.  Anya Sturrock joined the business last year as an apprentice in Professional Cookery, overcoming the challenges of learning on the job while maintaining social distancing – a testament to the adaptability of small businesses and their staff.

What’s more Anya has just recently been crowned Young Pie Maker of the Year at the British Pie Awards in Melton Mowbray. The trophy is proudly on display when you enter the café and serves very much as a reminder of how much can be achieved by young people and how much they can give back to their employer.  And that’s not the only award to have been won – there’s a trophy in there for Best Vegan Pie, a nod to the innovation on display at WeeCOOK. 

The toolkit showcases the experiences of small rural employers such as WeeCOOK, helping to inspire others to think about how they can benefit from making an investment in their workforce. So if you’d like to find out more about what’s involved or where you can go to get more information then have a look through the toolkit here

If pies are your thing then you really must pay WeeCOOK a visit or order yourself a little treat. I can vouch for this after having bought a hoisin pork pie to keep me company on my journey back down to Ayrshire. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed!