When Pembrokeshire-born Thomas Phillips was a 14 year-old schoolboy trying to plan his future work prospects, he didn’t think his lifelong dream of working with livestock stood a chance because he is from a non-farming background.

Today, this ambitious and focused new entrant, who is now 22 and assistant manager at a 450-cow dairy unit near Fishguard, has a raft of agriculture-related awards under his belt.

He received both student and apprentice of the year awards while a student at Coleg Sir Gar’s Gelli Aur campus and more recently, Farming Connect’s award for ‘Progressive New Entrant’, in recognition of his commitment to continuous professional development.

Thomas also undertook a three-week study tour of New Zealand, having been urged to apply by his hugely supportive employers - the same employers whom he first met at the age of just 15 through a day-release work experience scheme organised by his school.

Thomas says that comparing farms he visited from north to south New Zealand was an amazing experience which broadened his ambitions.

“Working alongside such a huge team of farm workers taught me the importance of good communications and teamwork, essential skills especially when you are farming on a massive scale but what I learned has remained with me.”

The Prichard family spotted Thomas’ potential from those early days of work experience. Impressed by his commitment and clear enjoyment of the day-to-day tasks on a busy working farm, they offered him a full-time apprenticeship on the basis that he would also attend 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 work-based livestock production. He is currently working towards his Level 4 apprenticeship.

“Attending college for a day a week was my first major challenge in life, because in those days I hadn’t learned how to drive, and I wasn’t sure how to get to my classes on time until I worked out the bus route to Gelli Aur!”

Thomas’ commitment to learning and personal development has continued since that time and he is a persuasive advocate for the benefits of lifelong learning.

“I see working in agriculture as a career not merely a job, so extending my skillset is helping me progress quicker.

“Farming Connect’s training provision is subsidised by up to 80 per cent for registered individuals and the courses are pitched at the right practical level, enabling me to focus on areas of learning which I use most in my current role.

“No two days are the same and I enjoy being involved with every aspect of life on a busy dairy unit, from milking, feeding and scraping out the yards to the overall grazing strategy and animal health planning to ensure that stock are always performing at their best.”

Through one of Farming Connect’s approved training providers, PMR Ltd, which is based in Haverfordwest, Thomas has undertaken short courses including calf and practical calf management; foot trimming; competence in the safe and responsible use of veterinary medicine and emergency first aid.

Farming Connect is delivered by Menter a Busnes and Lantra Wales and funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

“It’s been quite a broad range of training which has given me a new depth of knowledge and new skills that will help me as I progress my career.”

So what’s next for Thomas?

“At some stage I’d like to revisit New Zealand to gain even more experience of large-scale operations and eventually I hope to own some land of my own in Wales.

“I’m in farming for the long haul, so it’s not going to be a quick sprint, but I’m keen and hardworking and thanks to the support of my fantastic employers and my Storfa Sgiliau online record which lists what I have achieved as well as the skills I need to work on next, I’m optimistic about the future.”

The next Farming Connect skills application window is now open and goes on until to 5pm on Friday, July 29.

Any individual planning to apply during this window who is not already registered, should contact the Farming Connect Service Centre on 08456 000 813 before 5pm on Monday, July 25 2022.

For further information about all Farming Connect skills and training, Storfa Sgiliau or to view an online version of the ‘Step by step’ guidance booklet on applying for skills and e-learning, visit www.gov.wales/farmingconnectskillsandtraining. Alternatively, contact your local Farming Connect development officer, the Farming Connect Service Centre or your selected training provider.