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The Importance of Diversity in the Land-Based Sector

Henry Graham, Chair of the Implementation Steering Group for the Skills Action Plan for Rural Scotland, talks about the importance of having a diverse workforce and the rewards of bringing new talent and skills into the workplace.

It has been some time since I last wrote a blog, but life has rather got in the way in the interim. I had intended to write about the thrill and enjoyment of attending the ALBAs in the spring and seeing so many young people being rewarded for their outstanding achievements, with their families, training providers and others helping celebrate their achievements.

However, when I went into the lambing shed one Saturday night just after the awards, I didn’t think I would be in A&E at the Royal in Edinburgh the next day. Anyway, the Royal was where I was for the next eight days, receiving some wonderful care and attention from the consultant surgeons and nursing staff and physios. I mention this not to gain your sympathy, or to explain why I have been out of action for a while, but to share and emphasise the kindness that I was shown by the nursing staff. They demonstrated the best care skills alongside their valuable knowledge and experience.

I was surprised by the diversity of backgrounds of the individuals providing this care, especially during the night shift lasting from 7.30 in the evening to 7.30 the next morning. With nationalities ranging from Polish to Filipino to Nepalese to Burmese, with many having lived in Scotland for over 10 years.

Henry Graham

What intrigued me most was when I was awake during the night was the constant exchanging of knowledge and experience from their different backgrounds but at the same having fun in a difficult nursing environment. How crucial they are for the NHS to function effectively!

Like most of you, I have recently attended the Highland Show (my last as a member of the Lantra Board) and it’s only when it’s back in place, you realise just how much it has been missed and how much it contributes to everything you do. It was wonderful meeting old friends but also hearing of the huge number of initiatives that have moved forward during lockdown. I have been involved in many organisations such as SAC, QMS, Forestry Commission and Lantra and because of my Banking background, I often get involved in the Finance or Audit and Risk Committees. I have studied Risk Registers and what can be done to mitigate our main worries. However, one very interesting conversation I had with a senior person of a large organisation was not around risk worries but on risk appetite and how individuals and organisations must think differently and be prepared to focus on opportunities and take calculated risks around them.

That brings me back to how crucial a diversity of backgrounds is to our land-based sector, a point that was emphasised again to me recently at the celebration of the Women in Agriculture Training funds, which I was delighted to learn will open again later this month. Businesses with a diverse workforce can appeal to wider markets, have a broader knowledge base within their team, and are more resilient. Yet employing a new member of staff, particularly in Agriculture is a big risk, especially in these volatile times. Yet the rewards can be significant. For anyone not sure and seeking guidance, I recommend you get in touch with Lantra who can help, or have a look at their Employer’s Toolkit. None of us know what is around the corner (especially in the lambing shed it seems) but when things do go wrong, I know that having the right people around you, with diverse skills and experience, can make all the difference.

If you are still feeling nervous about taking that first step, I like this quote from Jeanette Winterson:

What you risk reveals what you value.

Janette Winterson

In farming, our workers are often seen as family. It is natural that recruitment feels like a big risk, but it is also an opportunity to support that family by ensuring that they have enough support to do the work that needs done.

Equally, though earlier in the year it might have been seen to be a risk to commit to the delivery of face-to-face events again, like the ALBAS and the Highland Show, I would hope we all recognise how much we value them now they are back.