Oliver Moore: Organic skillnet takes top prize

The National Organic Training Skillnet - NOTS – was recently awarded Best Learning and Development Organisation (Network and Groups) in Ireland by the Irish Institute of Training and Development.
Oliver Moore: Organic skillnet takes top prize

I spoke with Margaret O’Rourke Doherty, NOTS network manager.

What does NOTS do?

NOTS is an enterprise led model of training, so our programs are designed to really meet the needs of the sector.

The network is funded by Skillnet - through the National Training fund and the Department of Education and Skills the cost of the training is reduced.

The network now looks after over 600 member companies, delivering over 10,500 training days per year on over 60 different programs.

We also offer networking events to help businesses establish very important connections. These connections have proven very valuable in terms of business to business trading and also shared learning.

How do you decide what courses to put on?

We have a strong steering group made up of representatives of IOFGA, Organic Trust, Growers, Tillage and Livestock farmers and processors. They identify growing trends and what is needed on the ground.

We also do ongoing training needs analysis through surveys, face to face meetings, cluster groups. Our management team also attend most of our training programs to get to know our members and hear and understand their needs.

We are also always looking for new innovative topics or techniques that can help develop the sector, our management team keeps up to date on what is going and what training may be required.

We also consider reports such as Skillnets Statement of Strategy, Future Skills Needs, Harvest 2020 and so on.

What are the most popular courses?

Our core training courses are the Organic Production Principles QQI level 5, which is run in a very flexible manner. Many farmers are also employed off farm so we also run this course on Friday evening after work and Saturday over two weekends.

Our Level 9, Masters in Organic Farming with SRUC and the University of Glasgow has proven very popular in 2016, with 22 students taking it. This is a three year course, the first two years give you a Post Graduate Diploma in Organic Farming and the final year is the MSc.

This course is excellent as SRUC provide students with the ability to access learning from experts in the field, SRUC also carry out research and consultancy, so they really have a handle of what is happening on farms.

Many of the past students who have completed this course are now working as consultants, advisory and various state and semi state organisations, while others have used the learning and development to grown their farming or horticulture enterprise. This course requires a full application process, it requires a lot of commitment but all our past students will highly recommend this course.

Organic Market Gardening is one of most popular courses, Jim Cronin from Bridgetown in county Clare is an exceptional teacher. Jim delivers a course over the entire growing season, taking each crop from seed to harvest. This course will give you the knowledge and skills to establish a market garden.

Some of our most popular short courses are based on the ability for a farm to diversify and generate an income from various different streams. Egg production, poultry production, cut flowers, cheese and ice cream production all offer a farmer the ability to generate an income from the land.

Our technical courses are also very popular e.g. glass measurement and grassland management, gives the farmer the ability to reduce the input feed costs through correct utilisation of grassland swards thus they see a financial saving.

Our dry stone wall course are proving very popular again giving farmers the skills to maintain their stone walls on the farm, a measure which many farmers have taken under GLAS.

For more see www.nots.ie or ring 0870657864.

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