Deputy First Minister John Swinney visited Nairn Academy to hear about an innovative project aimed at preparing youngsters for careers in the farming and food and drink industries.
The scheme, organised by Farmer Jones Academy (FJA), has been produced by Richard Jones, where pupils at Nairn Academy have gained hands-on experience of the many aspects involved in Scotland’s booming agricultural and food and drink sectors.
The scheme is the first of its kind and has delivered a greater understanding to its participants of everything from growing food in polytunnels to branding and selling products, as well as using the ingredients in the school’s own Beach Cafe.
Mr Swinney said: “The Farmer Jones Academy is a really innovative and creative approach to engaging young people in the essential challenge of boosting recruitment into the food and drinks sector.
“It’s a huge success story for Scotland, but we have to recognise the need to boost the number of young people who are choosing a career in food and drink as their future.
“What the FJA is doing is bringing many of those opportunities and perspectives right into the heart of our schools, including here at Nairn Academy.
“I am very keen to see this model rolled out in other places, but it needs the openness of schools to embrace this idea.
“It needs innovators like Richard Jones to come in and to be prepared to fuel these things, it needs the community to be engaged and employers to be engaged, and if you get all that together, it is a great opportunity for young people and the young people of Nairn Academy are really fortunate to have these opportunities available.”
The programme will now be extended to take in eight schools and five centres across the Highlands to deliver 40 food and drink apprenticeships to S5 and S6 pupils.
Founder Richard Jones said: “It has been hard work getting here.
“We have been four years in the making, it’s 18 months since we started working at Nairn Academy and it has been a steep learning curve for both Sarah Mackenzie, my business partner, and myself.
“We want to allow young people to realise there are opportunities in the food and drink industry.
“The industry is set to double in the next 10 years to £30billion and it is the single biggest employer in the country and we are hoping to supply some of the workforce for that industry because it is an ageing industry.”
Ms Mackenzie added: “Something we have noticed by being in schools is the cultural thing and how they perceive the food and drink industry and the careers within it.
“There is a really bad perception that if you are not clever enough then you go into the industry, or work in a factory or become a waitress, and I think that is where the early intervention is key.”
The scheme will now be replicated at schools in Kingussie, Tain, Fortrose, and at Inverness Royal Academy, with interest already expressed from Shetland and Orkney to replicate the success of Nairn.
During the visit, Mr Swinney was shown around the school estate by senior pupils, including Fin Cowie who has been involved in the project.
Fin, who plans on perusing a career in events management after school, said: “You can take the skills you have learnt and do something else if it’s not for you.
But, if you do go and find it’s amazing, it sets you on your way.”