Dear Reader

In this issue of Growing Skills, the Rural Skills Centre Newsletter, we're focusing on machinery and vehicle skills and why it's vital to get proper training before you get behind the controls, whether you're a farmer operating a forklift, tractor or combine harvester, or a gardener using a lawn mower or hedge cutter. We also talk to forklift and tractor course instructor Chris Padfield, who explains how training can not only keep you safe, but also save you money.

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Best wishes,

James Foster

What Could You Do with Machinery Skills?

A farm employee damages a tractor because he doesn't know how to maintain it properly, a woman injures herself whilst using hedge cutters in her garden, and a student is ripped off by a garage because he doesn't understand how his car works. All of these are common scenarios which could easily be prevented by attending a machinery or vehicle course at the Rural Skills Centre.

Our 11 machinery courses and 19 vehicle courses are primarily aimed at people who work on farms, estates, building sites, waterways and housing developments, but are also very useful for anyone who owns a garden, piece of land – or car.

You might think doing a course in the operation of forklifts or ploughs is unnecessary because you can learn from a friend or relative, but it's always best to learn from an expert, rather than inheriting other people's bad habits! Employers' codes of practice and legislation mean a course is obligatory for many types of vehicle and machinery, from combine harvesters to 4x4s.

Perhaps you're already an experienced user of a particular vehicle or machine. Why not brush up your safety and operational techniques and gain a qualification in the process? We also offer conversion courses, for example people who drive telescopic forklifts can learn how to drive another class of truck in just one day.

As well as expert tuition, we provide high quality equipment, for example we recently invested £30,000 in a 2004 JCB 530-70 Super Farm Special forklift truck from Cotswold Farm Machinery of Cirencester. It will be used for various courses as well as around the college campus by our maintenance department.

Our machinery and vehicle courses include maintenance, practical exercises, health and safety and meeting legal requirements. The courses lead to certification either by Lantra Awards (the sector skills council for the environmental and land-based sectors) or the Royal Agricultural College.

Top Tips on … Machinery

  • You might be able to drive a tractor but do you know how to maintain it? Our tractor maintenance course covers all aspects of routine maintenance.
  • It is illegal to operate a ride-on mower without being trained, unless using it on your own property. If you're employed or self-employed and use one on someone else's property PUWER regulations state that you must be trained.
  • Intimidated by car salesmen and garage staff? Learn how to buy and maintain a car at RSC.

Chris Padfield – Machinery Skills in Practice

Chris Padfield has worked as a LANTRA instructor at the Royal Agricultural College for five years and is also a farmer. He mainly teaches telescopic forklift courses, plus pesticide courses when necessary.

His 800 acre farm in Staunton north of Gloucester is divided into 500 acres of arable and 300 acres for cattle. Chris uses the same model of telescopic forklift as the RSC, a JCB 53070, as well as two tractors; a Fendt 716 and a Massey Ferguson 3065. He explains: “The telescopic forklift is used for loading grain, moving straw bales and unloading. The tractors are used for ploughing, direct drilling, hauling grain – the whole caboodle!”

Chris, who as a freelance instructor also teaches people working on farms, says it's important to receive training before using machinery. “With forklifts there's a code of practice; you have to have a certificate of competence so your employer can show you've had the proper instruction and training.”

Training is vital to avoid accidents, he says. “A third of accidents on farms are people hit by machinery. I'm helping people operate machinery as safely as possible. For example, teaching people to use the mirrors on forklifts and tractors makes them aware of others around them.”

Chris says doing a course at the RSC has massive advantages over learning from a friend or relative. “People learn both good and bad habits on farms. The concentration is nearly always on speed, not necessarily on safety.”

Doing a course could actually save money in the long-run, he says: “There's an awful lot of technology on tractors and people don't always take the time to read the manual. A lot of farmers don't always understand how to use tractors as efficiently as possible. If you know how to use machinery properly, with the right weights, tyre pressure and gears, you'll use it far more efficiently.”

When he's not explaining the ins and outs of forklifts, 34-year-old Chris indulges his passion for another machine – his 1,000 CC motorbike. Every year for the last five years he has travelled around France, Spain and Switzerland.

Growing News

  • We have invested in new Stihl chainsaws and are being supported by Andreas Stihl with new clothing, teaching aids and some additional chainsaws and brush cutters.
  • Courses coming up in February include: BASIS Conservation management, a three day course aimed at professionals in the agricultural, land managementand environmental sector and FACTS, a professional agronomy course for professionals involved in the sale and advice of fertilizers.
  • Also in February we'll be running a Princes Trust "Get into” workshop, a two week programme which gives young adults the chance to learn skills such as welding, sheet metal work and blacksmithing and provides life skills and work experience to help them gain employment.
  • As we go to press there are vacancies on the following courses running in January and February: forklift operation, chainsaw operation, tractor driving, ATV operation, dry stone walling, hedge laying, various pesticide application courses, brick and block laying

Dates and further information about all our courses can be found on our website.