SINCE THE age of 16, Robbie Gray from Lanark has been working for the Hamilton Ross Group while doing a Modern Apprenticeship through Scotland’s Rural College.

Now 19, Robbie has progressed to working on mechanical and technical repairs for customers, as well complex software packages that fine tune the performance of tractors and other machinery. He also works part-time with a plant mechanic and drives tractors for an agricultural contractor to build his skills.

Robbie said: “I’m really enjoying the apprenticeship. It’s a great way of working, earning and learning. You get everything all in the one place – you are out making a wage to fund your life, and at the same time you are working towards a qualification and gaining skills.

I really enjoy the variation of different subjects at college. You get a good grounding on the topic you’re studying, from practical classes rebuilding engines, to understanding how everything works through class work. If all goes well, I should finish my apprenticeship next year, which will be a great start to my career.”

Robbie has always had a keen interest in agriculture, working alongside his dad in the family business and picking up invaluable practical skills which demonstrate the importance of work experience as part of the learning process. Through the apprenticeship, Robbie has been able to expand on what he learnt at home, building a firm foundation for the future.

As with many jobs in the farming sector, no two days are the same, and Robbie is relishing the challenge. He said: “I can do all sorts in a year, from fixing silage equipment in the summer, to working on salt spreaders and slurry tankers in the winter.

"Each day is different and that’s why I love my job. One day I could be servicing a telehandler out on the farm, the next I might be dealing with a breakdown at the side of the road. Some days I’ll be head down in the workshop getting a new machine ready for a customer – every day is different and every day is a challenge. It’s perfect for me.”

Robbie is quick to understand the crucial role that he and other land-based engineers play in keeping farms up and running: “Keeping machinery in top condition is vital. When things breaks down, animals might not get fed and this has an impact on the food chain. Everything has a knock-on effect.”

Today, farming has become a highly skilled job, with new technologies improving the efficiency of food production. From GPS guided tractors that improve the precision of cultivation, to ‘smart’ farming techs that automate processes, the industry has undergone a technological revolution in recent years.

Robbie explained: “In the workshop we all have our own laptops, which we use to update a tractor’s internal software, such as changing settings to improve efficiency, or dealing with any technical issues a tractor may have. Gone are the days when farming was just a mechanical job – it’s more complex but I think that adds to the challenge and gives you new skills to learn.”

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Robbie has learnt first-hand the challenges and joys of farming life and is keen to share his experiences with others. Having won the Land-Based Learner of the Year Award at Lantra Scotland’s ALBAS in March, he gets to travel the country as one of Lantra’s ‘Industry Champions,’ promoting the rural sector and speaking to young people about farming and engineering.

Robbie said: “It’s great to win a Lantra award – it’s a big achievement and shows that if you put the work in you get rewarded. That makes me proud. I’ve also had the chance to speak to other people about my career and I always say that if you have a keen interest in the job and enjoy practical work in an outdoors setting, you’ll do well.

"Some people get put off having to work in all weathers, but I think that’s what makes the job so special. Some days are wet and windy, but you’ve always got the beautiful Scottish scenery to look at. If its frosty you just need to wrap up and get on with the job in hand, and then in the summer, you can enjoy taking in the sunshine while you’re fixing a tractor on a picturesque hillside. There’s not many jobs that give you those kinds of experiences!”

So what does the future hold for young Robbie? He said: “I’m looking forward to completing my apprenticeship next year and furthering my career with Hamilton Ross Group. It’s a great company with great people, so I am enjoying working and building my skills here. One day I might want to run the family business, who knows. For now, it’s about getting my head down and taking it one day at a time.”