Lori Douglas, Learning and Development Manager from Landmarc Support Services, on the challenges faced by rural employers and how these can be overcome to ensure they keep up with their urban counterparts and remain a ‘force for good’
For any organisation keen to demonstrate responsible business practices, there are a host of areas to consider. From environmental impact and issues around diversity, to social inclusion and robust corporate governance. Businesses keen to be a ‘force for good’ have a multitude of factors to consider if they are to be celebrated as making a positive difference in their local economy.
For rural employers this challenge is felt all the more keenly, with physical location, access to services and recruitment adding additional complexity.
Yet, these are all challenges which can be overcome, suggests Lori. As the supplier of management and support services to the UK Ministry of Defence National Training Estate, Landmarc operates in some of the most remote areas of the country. It has long been an advocate for the importance – and the benefits – of active engagement with the stakeholders that live and work in its local communities.
Lori outlines some of the challenges rural employers face and highlights how the company is investing significantly in its training delivery, to ensure it can continue to champion responsible business practices in these communities.
The rural business landscape
Rural areas face a range of costs for service delivery – including lower economies of scale and higher per-capita costs, along with increased transport and childcare costs. This can make it difficult for service providers to meet the needs of the rural population.
Lack of investment in an adequate and frequent public transport network means that rural communities often struggle to access services – and these services can often be more expensive. And it is not just the physical infrastructure that can be problematic. In an age where so many interactions - whether financial, retail or even social - are conducted online, rural areas often lag behind in broadband provision.
It would be easy to conclude that these barriers make finding and accessing employment in the countryside too problematic; yet some statistics do offer a more positive viewpoint. For example, the Government’s rural business statistics show that there are proportionally more small businesses in rural areas and more registered businesses, per head of population, in predominantly rural areas than in predominantly urban areas (excluding London).
The training gap
Rural employment is typically diverse, and it is less likely that there will be multiple jobs available of the same kind, with repeatable skill sets. Instead, many positions are unique and require a range of talents, often gained over a lifetime of work experience.
Investment in training presents employers with a significant opportunity to create greater career potential for employees through life-long learning, as it can be used to upskill existing workforces as well as for new employees.
However, the location of approved providers and the perceived productivity losses while employees are undertaking training, can present challenges to employers. This means that learning and upskilling may not always been high on the agenda. In particular, the availability and location of sufficient approved training providers can be a barrier, especially for businesses with a wide geographical spread, often based in rural areas of the UK.
To help overcome this issue, national employers should be encouraged to take full advantage of the Government’s Apprenticeship Levy, an area in which Landmarc is investing considerable time and resource. The Levy provides access to a training fund to upskill an existing workforce in England as well as to bring new apprentices into the business.
One of Landmarc’s employees, Jasmine Atkinson, a rural apprentice in the South West region, is being given the opportunity to further her career and gain new qualifications at the same time. Jasmine started her career with Landmarc as a Site Operative; a job that is just three miles from her home. Now, four years later, she has recently begun a new Property Maintenance Operative apprenticeship.
Jasmine comments: “I’m learning new things every day, either through hands-on training or by studying at the local college. It’s not without its challenges; studying while having a full-time job takes time and effort, so it’s really important to have a supportive employer that understands the time pressures you face.
“For me, living and working in the countryside is not a compromise. I have a great future career potential and I get to enjoy my job in some of the country’s most beautiful scenery while I’m working!”
“ It is important that ‘rural’ does not become a synonym for ‘old fashioned’ and that employees enjoy the same opportunities their urban counterparts do, in order to compete in a modern world. ”
Be a 'force for good'
For employees living and working in the countryside, it is important that ‘rural’ does not become a synonym for ‘old fashioned’ and that employees enjoy the same opportunities their urban counterparts do, in order to compete in a modern world. Relevant and inclusive training provision is just one way in which businesses, like Landmarc can ensure that they are helping to be a ‘force for good’ in today’s workplace.
 DEFRA, Rural Business Statistics August 2017 Digest https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/fil...