A profession in decline?

Gamekeeping must respond to the modern work market

 

The gamekeeping industry must modernise if it is to survive, says a new report from Sector Skills Council body Lantra. The report, which examines the industry for skills shortages that exist in the current workforce and projects which skills will be needed in the future, does not paint a rosy picture if it is to be believed.

Though the gamekeeper’s importance to the countryside is also acknowledged, the report identifies a worrying number of shortcomings within the game and wildlife management industry that must be addressed. These include a lack of standard qualifications in the sector and a need for further training that is not targeted only at newcomers coming into the industry, but also to practising keepers wanting to progess their careers

What is already an extremely competitive job market looks set to become even harder to break into in the near future. Between now and 2020, the report states, there are likely to be 500 more people needed in the industry – nearly a fifth of which are likely to be “sales and customer service roles”, and not actual gamekeeping positions at all. However, even with few jobs around, it appears that there is no shortage of people wishing to enter the industry. In 2007 to 2009 alone, nearly 400 people either enrolled on game and wildlife management courses or entered apprenticeships in the industry, underlining that keepering is still a popular vocational choice with young people.

The environmental conservation sector, currently employing over 73,000 people and encompassing jobs such as park rangers, environmental policy officers and ecologists, Lantra projects will require 36,000 more personnel before the year 2020, an  increase of almost half the number of jobs currently offered by that sector. Despite the invaluable conservation efforts of the game and wildlife industry, the growth of the industry is alarmingly small in comparison.

The report also points out the gamekeeping industry’s current weaknesses. It suggests a number of areas that Lantra thinks need to be addressed, varying from financial concerns following changes to agri-environmental schemes to the current difficulties in finding jobs in the industry.

Increasing competition in the workplace means that skills job applicants have to offer are only going to become more and more important. The game industry, Lantra points out, is highly skilled but lacking in officially accredited qualifications. This certainly needs to change, so standards in the industry can be regulated and gain credibility. Besides having no official standards to work towards, business and management skills such as budget planning and event management are identified by Lantra as important shortages within today’s workforce and should be encouraged. Also needed are what it deems “essential skills” like literacy and numeracy, plus more modern skills such as working knowledge of computers and the importance of customer relations.

Also examined is government legislation expected in the next decade that could cause serious issues for the industry in practice. Lead ammunition and the Muirburn Code are two areas that are identified as possibly having “serious implications”. Ensuring that trainee keepers are aware of relevant laws and actually keep abreast of the frequent changes in legislation is absolutely vital to protect the interests of all gamekeepers.

Media coverage of the profession is almost invariably negative, focusing on lawbreaking by renegade keepers and driven by those with anti-shooting interests like the League against Cruel Sports or the RSPB. Projecting an image of gamekeeping that is as positive as possible is vital to avoid the introduction or alteration of even more laws that are not in the best interest of keepers and the practice of their profession. Customer relations and conduct are also picked out as crucial to the industry’s future, for much the same reasons. Training new gamekeepers cannot just focus on the law’s minimum requirements though, the report warns; business development is just as important.

Modern technology is also set to affect the industry more, according to Lantra. Global Positioning Systems and Geographic Information Systems are two innovations whose benefits ought to be more widely known. It suggests computer skills in general are only going to become more important in the industry, and are necessary if it is “to continue to operate efficiently and effectively” in the future.

As the figures for the environmental conservation sector indicate, environmental concerns are paramount among the drivers for change considered in the assessment of the game industry. Land management skills need to be “environmentally sensitive”, it says, while the EU’s biodiversity target is “an opportunity for shooters to provide additional conservation benefits for society”. Once again, the impact on the image of the gamekeeping industry is clearly an important factor.

The game industry, Lantra suggests, must focus on improving its public image through better marketing. More work is desperately needed to be done on its lack of standardisation. More young people should be encouraged into the sector to keep it buoyant. But the biggest obstacles to industry growth are probably what Lantra notes as the “cultural opposition to training” and the “reluctance to partake in paper-based learning”. Overcoming these problems will not be a smooth process, as many practising keepers today are so set in their ways. Encouraging apprenticeships that combine traditional methods of learning gamekeeping with more modern, paper-driven ways is a step in the right direction.

Regulation and training may not be appreciated by the old guard whose wealth of knowledge is often overlooked, but there is little doubt that the game and wildlife industry would do better to adopt and have an input on training and legislation now, rather than to have it forced upon them by future instant experts in government.

 

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