MAKING WAVES: Modern Apprentice Finalist in British Education Awards

A modern apprentice with Cooke Aquaculture Scotland has been nominated for a top vocational education award.

Cooke employee Emma Rochester combines her time studying at NAFC Marine Centre UHI and working at Cooke Aquaculture Scotland’s Ness of Copister salmon farm site on the southern tip of Yell in Shetland.

She has made it to the finals of the British Education Awards and will attend the awards ceremony in Manchester tonight after being nominated by NAFC Marine Centre, a local college that delivers specialist training for careers in the maritime sector.

In 2019 Emma completed an SVQ Level 2 (SCQF Level 5) in Aquaculture, and is currently working towards a Level 3 (SCQF Level 7) in Aquaculture.

Earlier in her career, the 25-year-old from Shetland achieved an HNC in Nautical Science, also through the NAFC Marine Centre, before switching into a career in aquaculture, joining Cooke Aquaculture Scotland in 2017.

“I started out volunteering on tall ships, first in Shetland and then sailing the Mediterranean. I love being at sea and some of the guys suggested I join the merchant navy. I became an Able Seaman working on platform supply vessels and emergency response and rescue vessels operating in the North Sea.”

However, a desire for more secure employment closer to home following the drop in oil prices and widespread redundancies in the oil and gas sector in 2016 led Emma to consider a career in the aquaculture sector.

“Lots of people were made redundant and it was difficult to find work. It didn’t seem like it was sustainable. My partner was also working offshore and risked being laid off. We both wanted to move back to Shetland and find something more sustainable so I decided to look for jobs ashore using skills I’d gained, and that’s how I ended up at Cooke Aquaculture.

“I was told that I could do Modern Apprenticeship, and I wanted to gain another qualification, gain skills and insight into the sector. After I completed the SVQ Level 2 I was asked if I wanted to do the Level 3, which I’m currently completing.”

During site visits she impressed the SVQ assessor with her professionalism, conducting health and safety checks and ensuring compliance with Cooke Aquaculture Scotland’s strict biosecurity procedures.

Her enthusiasm for more hands-on tasks – including salmon pen maintenance, skippering the workboat and checking environmental data – was obvious.

She also impressed the assessor with her knowledge of her site operations, explaining the feed system and feed management and upgrades to the site prior to the introduction of smolt.

“I like being outside working on the boats and on the pens. Copister is quite a large site so there’s always lots to do and its rewarding to see the fish grow as a result of the effort you’re putting in to looking after them.”

Emma’s knowledge and enthusiasm for her work, the high standards of her written material and her excellent communication skills make her stand out from other students.

“Doing my apprenticeship with Cooke Aquaculture is brilliant. I’m given loads of time at work to complete my SVQ units, and it really helps to apply what I’m learning at college in a real work environment.

“I get all the help I need, especially from my manager, Arnold – he usually knows the answers and if not he’ll find out. He’s been really supportive and helped me with my studies.”

Emma won the NAFC Jim Tait Prize for Aquaculture in 2019 and is a finalist in the British Education Awards 2020.

Emma exemplifies the benefits of work-based learning and is a role model for young women considering a career in the aquaculture industry.

“If anyone is thinking about joining the aquaculture sector I’d say: just apply. You’ll gain qualifications and experience on the job, it’s a good career and much more interesting that working in an office!”

Emma Rochester is an Apprentice Site Assistant at Cooke Aquaculture Scotland’s Ness of Copister sea farm in Shetland.