Fruit skills shortage could upset apple cart
Fruit production is far and away one of Kent’s most important
The county is the largest producer of top fruit (fruit that
grows on trees) and we have some of the best growers in the UK.
Although the global market resulted in some lean years for the
industry, rising demand for British-grown fruit has transformed the
All this is upbeat and positive. However, there is one
significant problem that could upset the apple cart.
The fruit industry has become increasingly dependent on people
from Eastern Europe to fill jobs, not only seasonal but also
permanent senior roles.
This level of dependence on imported skills is not sustainable
because, as the farming industries in Bulgaria and Romania develop
and expand – as is already happening in Poland – there will be no
reason for people to come over here to find work.
Nine months ago a steering group of leading growers discussed
what could be done to future-proof the skill needs of the fruit
It was agreed that apprenticeships designed to prepare entrants
for supervisory and management roles were the answer. In order to
remove the barriers applying to government-funded apprenticeships,
sponsorship was sought from the private sector.
It’s been a long haul to reach the final stages but now the end
is in sight. The structure of the three-year apprenticeship
programmes agreed with industry has been fully accredited by NCFE.
Sponsorship has been agreed with two businesses that provide
services for the fruit industry.
These sponsors are providing £10,000 between them, covering the
training costs of an apprentice during the three year indentured
period. The apprentices will be paid by their employers throughout
The Fruit Apprenticeship Programme, which breaks entirely new
ground, fills a real gap and completed apprentices are guaranteed
challenging and progressive jobs in a vibrant, successful and
technologically advanced industry.
There are no barriers to application and graduates and others
excluded from government-funded schemes can apply.
Selection will be competitive and include interviews with
sponsors, employers and trainers. The intention is to indenture the
first two apprentices by the end of June. Additional sponsorship is
being sought with a view to an increase in the number of
apprenticeship opportunities available.
Application forms can be obtained by sending an SAE to Pat
Crawford, Hadlow College, Hadlow, Tonbridge, Kent TN11 OAL.
Company chiefs in the county say "wholesale review" of business rates would be welcomed but admit they do not know what the alternative is.
Eight companies have pledged to hire over 50 apprentices as part of the Kick Start Kent campaign, being run by the KM Group.
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