When Pembrokeshire-born Thomas Phillips was a 14-year-old schoolboy trying to plan his future prospects for work, he didn’t think his lifelong dream of working with cattle had a chance because he came from a non-agricultural environment.
Today, this ambitious and focused newcomer, now 22 and assistant manager of a 450-cow dairy unit near Fishguard, has a string of farming-related awards under his belt.
He received Student and Apprentice of the Year awards while a student at the Gelli Aur campus of Coleg Sir Gar and most recently Farming Connect’s award for “Progressive New Entrant”, in recognition of its commitment to continuous professional development.
Thomas also embarked on a three-week study trip to New Zealand, having been invited to apply by his overwhelmingly supportive employers – the same employers he first met aged just 15 in as part of a work experience program organized by his school.
Thomas says comparing the farms he has visited from the north to the south of New Zealand has been an incredible experience that has broadened his ambitions.
“Working alongside such a large team of farmhands has taught me the importance of good communication and teamwork, essential skills, especially when you’re farming on a large scale, but this what I learned stayed with me.”
The Prichard family spotted Thomas’ potential from those early days of professional experience. Impressed by his commitment and obvious enjoyment of daily tasks on a working farm, they offered him a full-time apprenticeship on the basis that he would also attend the Coleg Sir Gar Gelli Aur campus one day a week, to study for a Level 2 NVQ in Agriculture, which he soon followed with a Level 3 Diploma in Livestock Farming. He is currently preparing his level 4 apprenticeship.
“Going to college one day a week was my first big challenge in life because at that time I hadn’t learned to drive and I didn’t know how to get to class on time until I found the bus route to Gelli Aur!
Thomas’ commitment to learning and personal development has continued since then and he is a persuasive advocate for the benefits of lifelong learning.
“I see working in agriculture as a career, not just a job. Therefore, expanding my skills helps me progress faster.
“Farming Connect’s training offer is subsidized up to 80% for enrollees and the courses are tailored to the right practical level, allowing me to focus on the areas of learning I use the most in my current role.
“No two days are the same and I enjoy being involved in all aspects of life at a busy dairy, from milking, feeding and scraping classes to overall grazing strategy and to animal health planning to ensure livestock always perform at their best.”
Through one of Farming Connect’s approved training providers, PMR Ltd, based in Haverfordwest, Thomas completed short courses including practical calf management; foot cut; proficiency in the safe and responsible use of veterinary medicine and emergency first aid.
Farming Connect is offered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.
“It was quite a broad education that gave me a new depth of knowledge and new skills that will help me throughout my career.”
What’s next for Thomas?
“At some point I would like to revisit New Zealand to gain even more experience in large-scale operations and eventually hopefully own land of my own in Wales.
“I’m in farming for the long term so it won’t be a quick sprint but I’m enthusiastic and hardworking and thanks to the support of my fantastic employers and my Storfa Sgiliau online file which lists what I have accomplished as well as the skills I need to work on next, I am optimistic about the future.
The next Farming Connect skills application window is now open and will run until 5pm on Friday July 29th.
Anyone planning to apply during this window and who has not yet registered should contact the Farming Connect Service Center on 08456 000 813 by 5.00pm on Monday 25th July 2022.
For more information on all Farming Connect, Storfa Sgiliau skills and training, or to view an online version of the “Step by Step” Guidance Booklet on Applying for Skills and Online Learning, visit www.gov. wales/farmingconnectskillsandtraining. You can also contact your local Farming Connect development agent, Farming Connect service center or the training provider you have selected.