The ‘brain drain’ from the countryside has been gathering pace for decades – but it’s a needless hangover from the pre-digital era, says Catherine Linch of rurally based PR and communications business Pinstone.

Laying out the gauntlet to businesses, she urges employers to work harder to develop and nurture rurally based talent, to offer not only jobs in the countryside, but meaningful careers.

There is no doubt that, in the UK, there’s a strong ‘rural attraction’.

The open spaces and friendly, village communities hold a key to unlocking so many of modern society’s issues.

There’s the ‘getting away from it all’ experience and access to the active, outdoor leisure pursuits for which city dwellers will happily abandon their tiny apartments and suburban dwellings, in their droves.

They flock to rural destinations, seek out scenic drives and the country cottage experience. But relocating to the country is a post-career goal, fuelling the retired rural population, while younger talent can be overlooked.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Meanwhile, there are perceived challenges for those who have lived their entire lives in the countryside, who often only see as far as a low income economy that fails to offer opportunity or reward ambition.

But why does it have to be that way?

Technology today is making physical distance between commercial businesses increasingly irrelevant. And we’ve got a transport network that makes even the more remote UK locations attainable to the larger conurbations for a once or twice a week business meeting.

Yes, I hear the screams of ‘rural broadband’ and the frustrations of motorway congestion, but broadband is slowly becoming more accessible and ever more flexible working opportunities can allow for congestion peaks to be avoided.

A career in the countryside doesn’t present ‘a perfect world’, but there’s a vast tranche of society that experiences an equal level of frustration with the drawbacks of city life. Yet, the jobs and the careers continue to be orientated in and around our cities.

Employers must take the lead and they may surprise themselves. But it takes an open mind as to transferable skill sets; a commitment to training and coaching programmes and company cultures that offer flexibility and ‘work-life balance’ opportunities – the greatest ‘USP’ the countryside career can offer.

It’s a very real challenge for businesses and a risk that many are clearly not prepared to take. But, in my experience, the offer of innovation, ambition and an energetic approach to business will attract talent. And where others adopt the same mentality, a self-repeating model has the potential to generate a rural hub of career-generating enterprise.

Pinstone at the 2018/19 Midlands Rural Business Awards

The Pinstone model

It was – with hindsight – with a certain degree of naivety that I went about seeking a career in thecountryside in my early 20s. But it’s a step I’ve never regretted. I’m now the owner and managing director of one of largest specialist PR and communications agencies working for the agri-business sector and the agri-food supply chain.

Pinstone has a staff of 18, based on the Enterprise Park on the edge of Leominster – a rural town 20 miles north of Hereford, and a 50-minute drive through windy rural roads, just to access the motorway network.

Yet, our client portfolio boasts clients ranging from global blue-chip firms to smaller independent companies, spanning animal health, crop protection, feed, fertiliser and leading organic sector organisations.

Replicating – and improving on – the career opportunity that I had, seemed an obvious pathway to the growth and sustainability of the business.

The company I joined after graduating and relocating to the rural fringes of the West Midlands, had folded after my sixth year with the firm, but with the benefit of a ‘golden handshake’, inheriting three of my clients that would otherwise have been resigned, and the seeds were set for a new, rurally-based and ambitious young business.

There was a crossroads in the development of Pinstone. Every other ex-colleague had taken a freelance career route and that’s how I started. But rural life can be isolating enough, and freelance wasn’t for me in my mid-20s – so I took my steer from the market. And, despite the demise of my previous employer, my experience was of a growing demand for more of the kind of agri-sector PR and communications services I was providing. Getting busier meant recruiting more help, more help meant requiring a premises to work
from and so Pinstone went from strength to strength.

Recruitment in one of the most sparsely populated counties of the UK has always been our biggest challenge. But it’s a challenge we have in common with many businesses – many of whom – theoretically at least – are geographically in more favourable recruitment territories.

Early dabbling in senior level recruitment failed to deliver the self-motivated, entrepreneurial calibre individuals that young businesses need. So, I turned to the university graduate model that I based on my own experience and that’s been our foundation of recruitment ever since.

Without wishing to entirely revert to stereotypes, the university graduate offering a ‘blank canvas’, keen, intelligent and technologically savvy aptitude, can take some beating, even from the most seasoned and experienced professional.

We’ve now witnessed numerous examples of fresh faced, young grads who come with the right attitude and who, with the right support, training and opportunity to grow, will quickly excel and hungrily take up every new challenge.

Our early development also required an entrepreneurial spirit and that’s not easy to come by. But, rural talent, I’d suggest, offers just the kind of characteristics that spawning businesses demand.

There’s a lot to be said for a mix of skill sets within a business, but for us, the agricultural nature of our company’s remit saw an early focus on talent from the agricultural colleges and universities and in turn, graduates hailing from farming communities.

And that was all to our benefit – taking on talent with a built-in commercial outlook that comes with a farming family business upbringing and the social, networking and team ethos that involvement in the Young Farmers Clubs’ community offers.

Recruitment challenges take investment and an HR framework that offers every individual choice and opportunity. And it’s incredible how, with the right set-up, individuals grow in confidence, curiosity and drive; and in turn, we’ve come to nurture a business proposition that reflects that internal culture, attracting new, like-minded clients to us, stimulating growth and incentivising continual innovation and opportunity.

Pinstone is a dynamic PR and communications consultancy, helping our clients build their profile in agriculture, and our people to develop their careers.

Based in Herefordshire, one of the most sparsely populated regions of the UK, we’re doing our bit for career-minded individuals who want to live and work in the countryside and it has been a huge success.

Grown from nothing to a £1.5 million business since 2005, Pinstone has nurtured predominantly ‘home-grown’ talent and maintains a clear vision, to not only be the leaders in our agency specialism of agriculture, but to truly ‘shape the future of agri-comms’.

To learn more about Pinstone, head to www.pinstone.co.uk