Sharpening up the skills sector
In March this year, Lantra was launched as the government-recognised Sector Skills Council (SSC) for the environmental and land-based sector. Louise McCarthy, Lantra, explores how education, training and skills development are at the heart of sustainable development.
The second UK government report on sustainable development, Achieving a better quality of life, was also launched on March 13. The original report, published in 2000, addressed the need to deliver sustainable development in the UK. The government recognises sustainable development as embracing four themes: social progress which recognises the needs of everyone; effective protection of the environment; prudent use of natural resources; and the maintenance of high and stable levels of economic growth and employment.
It is not difficult to see what a vital role those working in the environmental and land-based sector have in contributing to sustainable development, and through this contributing to the economic, social and environmental health of the UK's countryside. Ensuring that workforce has the training and skills to achieve this is, therefore, paramount.
"We believe in Lantra's contribution to sustainable development," says Lantra chairman, Dr Gordon McGlone, who is also director of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, "Our new 'environmental and land-based' title acknowledges the close and interdependent nature of the various industries that we represent. Although often small in themselves, when taken together these industries contribute significantly to the economic, environmental and social well- being of the countryside."
Recognition of the sector's contribution has also been highlighted by the Policy Commission's recently published report on the Future of Farming and Food.
An integrated approach
Building and maintaining local communities is also acknowledged as being vital to achieving the social aspects of sustainable development.
Thriving rural communities can only be built and sustained on thriving rural businesses, and the environmental and land-based industries play a key part in the UK's rural economies. Rural regeneration and recovery, particularly in the aftermath of foot and mouth disease, is therefore also central to Lantra's work.
A typical example is in Yorkshire where Lantra, working with rural organisations, has secured significant funding from the Yorkshire & Humber Regional Development Agency to deliver business improvement events such as Information & Communication Technology (ICT) workshops.
"Sustainable development is not achievable as an objective in its own right, but must be the outcome of an integrated approach that takes a wide view of productivity," says McGlone. Businesses will have to ensure that financial gains do not displace the need to run their operations in an environmentally sustainable way.
However, the general public's expectations of a pleasant and well-managed countryside can only be sustained if supported by economically viable business. One thing is clear: for businesses to identify and implement financially sustainable practices, that are at best neutral or preferably positive in their impact on the environment, the development of new skills and knowledge is necessary.
Lantra has already made great progress to meet its objectives of reducing such skills gaps and shortages in the sector. For example, it is responsible for delivering online learning through the University for Industry (Ufi) initiative, learndirect.
"Lantra's work with the University for Industry to develop a sector learning hub for the environmental and land-based industries represents a major step forward in providing sector-specific learning material," says McGlone.
Courses that focus on the environment and conservation, and encourage the integration of sustainable development into farm practices, are already available through Lantra Awards. They cover skills such as growing renewable energy crops, how to use nutrients and fertilisers effectively to minimise environmental impact, and how to prevent pollution, including air, soil, noise and water, and abide with IPPC (Integrated Pollution Preven-tion Control) regulations.
Education, training and skills development such as those being facilitated
through Lantra, along with initiatives to improve the supply of learning to
all in the environmental and land-based sector, are at the heart of ensuring
sustainable development. Keeping a close eye on changes in the sector, Lantra
will continue to work with employers to increase the environmental, social and
economic capital of their industries.