Name of Network: National Organic Training Skillnet
Number of members: 2800
Sector(s) covered: Agriculture / Agri-food
Year established: 2007
For our latest Network Insider interview we spoke to National Organic Training Skillnet (NOTS) Network Manager, Seán McGloin, to learn more about the upskilling and development opportunities they offer in organic food production and farming.
Please describe what your Skillnet business network does and how it came about?
National Organic Training Skillnet (NOTS) is primarily focused on the provision and development of training in organic food production. In addition, networking and stimulating the sector is an important part of what NOTS Skillnet does. The Network is deeply embedded within its’ membership and strives to find solutions that will increase organic production and organic farm and business incomes.
The Network was first established as the Western Organic Network, which was funded by Skillnet Ireland and set up based on the analysis of a study that found one of the biggest obstacles to the development of organic agriculture was a lack of knowledge in production and processing.
Can you outline one key way NOTS Skillnet impacts positively on your sector?
Since inception, our Skillnet has strived to find solutions through training and networking for our members regardless of entry level. NOTS Skillnet has developed training programmes to create a circular economy from entry level production to processing, and in recent years, we have taken the lead in developing climate change farming awareness. We promote the idea of how organic farming techniques have the potential to reverse climate change effects through soil carbon sequestration.
What has been the most transformative initiative in your sector in the last year?
BioFarm – Ireland’s Biological Farming Conference has been transformational for us. In 2020, we converted it to an online conference, and the response was amazing – more than 1,000 people bought tickets and we were able to attract the highest-level agricultural experts in their field as keynote speakers. The recognition of BioFarm as an event that provided practical, climate change solutions has been incredible. The event showcases climate change mitigation techniques on the ground and has been noted by policy makers as a “game-changer” – while also attracting interest from the industry sectors on carbon trading.
What new trends do you see emerging within your industry?
A focus on “Carbon Farming” and how farmers have the potential to trade carbon as a new output product is a very exciting trend. This is something we will be investigating further at BioFarm 2021.
How is your NOTS Skillnet using technology to facilitate learning and development programmes?
Like all Skillnets, we’ve had to adapt to the constraints of the pandemic. It wasn’t easy converting very hands-on, practical farming programmes to online learning – but our members have been responding brilliantly to our online offerings. Utilising online tools has opened us up to new members who can now learn cutting edge farming techniques from the comfort of their own homes. The utilisation of professional videography was a key element of this. With the improvements in broadband and the usability of online platforms, members who were previously geographically challenged can now access our training content remotely. This has greatly increased demand for our services.
What skills do you think are most important for a small business owner/manager?
Understanding of the challenges facing your customers is vital. You must be flexible in order to address these challenges while building a strong team. Building a good team that you can delegate responsibilities to is also a very important aspect – this has never been more important than when “working from home” became the norm during the pandemic.
Do you have any advice for a business that is considering joining a Skillnet Business Network?
I would schedule meetings with the Network Manager, outline your business challenges and discuss what you need, what supports are available etc. See how your business needs can be aligned with what the Network is delivering. Don’t be afraid to pick up the phone!
Visit the National Organic Training Skillnet website to learn more about the upskilling and development opportunities they offer in organic food production and farming. Keep up to date with their latest news on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and Instagram.