Gamekeepers are among the hardest hit when a shoot is forced to close or make staff redundant. National Gamekeepers Organisation chairman Liam Bell offers practical advice to those affected and explains why they are not on their own.
If there is anything more upsetting and unsettling than impending redundancy, I have yet to hear of it. And for gamekeepers who have been given notice of a shoot closure or impending redundancy, there is the added body blow of having to find not only another job, but also in most instances, if you don’t manage to find that new job, somewhere else to live. Something to bear in mind is that redundancy packages are never as big as people expect.
Redundancy and gamekeepers
Gamekeepers aren’t employed by huge multinationals or government agencies and, while usually there will be some sort of payment to soften the blow, it won’t be enough to buy a house, retire or survive on for more than a few months. The relocation itself can be particularly stressful. Add on a change of schools for your children and a change of job for your partner or spouse and you have the start of a perfect stress storm.
Circumstances such as this test the strongest of relationships and either strengthen or, sadly on occasion, loosen those family bonds. Thankfully, what may appear to be all doom and gloom at first in many instances turns out to be a blessing in disguise. It may not seem like it when you are given the news, but change can be for the better. A new job and a fresh start can be like a breath of fresh air. It isn’t until you have moved on and settled in you actually realise how unhappy or unfulfilled you were in the position you just left.
On being given the shoot closure/redundancy news, my advice would be to stop and take stock, and to try and see things rationally. Easy enough for me to say and for those of us in jobs to nod our heads. Not so easy in practice if you are the one who has just had the letter. The most pressing question you must answer is, do you still want to stay in keepering? It must be done with as clear a head as possible as only you can truly answer it.
It is only natural, if you are feeling let down and despondent, to want to walk away and do something completely different. Which is why it is best to avoid making snap decisions until you are more settled and have allowed time for things to sink in. If after a period of contemplation and reflection — and I must add, most importantly, discussion with your other half — you not only think you do, but crucially know you do, all well and good. You can move on to the next stage and start looking for somewhere new.
If you decide you want to do something else, it is fine, because it is what you want. It is only you who can make that decision. No one should feel compelled to stay in the same profession forever, regardless of the reasons, if it is not what they really want to do. If you feel you have done your bit and want a change, do it and do it with your head held high.
Getting a new job
Things have moved on since the days of keepers finding jobs at Crufts. If you want to find a job now, you have to be proactive and leave no stone unturned. Gone are the days of waiting to be offered one by a neighbouring estate. Things are tough out there. If you want a new job, you need to go out and find one. Nor should finding a new position be rushed.
- There is little point in taking the first job you are offered, if it isn’t right for you.
- On the other hand, you can’t be too choosey if you need the money and a roof over your head. A difficult one I know, but finding the right job is more important than finding any job. It is something that shouldn’t be rushed.
- The first part of the job hunt should be narrowing your search down to the area of the country you want to work in. The second part is deciding what jobs you are going to apply for. There is not a lot of point applying for headkeeper’s positions if you don’t have the experience, or applying for underkeeper’s positions if you know it isn’t what you want and you’ll feel undervalued.
- Equally important is being truthful about your own capabilities and not overpromoting yourself or pretending you have experience in an area where you have none. A low ground keeper on a shoot that releases game may not be suited for work on a grouse moor.
- When you have narrowed you search, start being proactive. Think about how you are going to tackle things.
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Have a plan
There are three main ways you will find a new job.
- Firstly, you need to apply for all the relevant job adverts. (Shooting UK has advertised jobs here.)
- Secondly, you should write an advert of your own.
- Thirdly, you should put word out there that you are looking, not everyone will know.
And finally, keep at it. It is easy to lose heart if you can’t find the right job, keep getting turned down or fail to make the interview stage. There will be something out there for you, but only if you keep looking.
- Gamekeeping job adverts can be found in the sporting press and online.
- When you have found something you think will suit, apply immediately and be polite.
- Send a covering letter and a copy of your updated CV. There is no point sending a letter by itself, filling it with irrelevant details and hoping it will suffice. It won’t. If there is a postal address, the covering letter should be handwritten. It doesn’t matter how bad your handwriting is, a handwritten letter is always better than a signed, printed copy of a generic letter typed on a laptop.
- The CV is important. The content needs to relevant, the qualifications and certificates current.
- Prospective employers will, of course, be more interested in the job you are leaving and what you have done there, than in some amazing job you had somewhere else 10 years previously.
- Certificates of competence and additional qualifications are so important. Experience counts for a lot, but only if the person with the experience has the relevant pieces of paper. It is all well and good saying you can do something, but if you can’t prove it and provide prospective employers with a certificate of competence, the person doing the paper shift is going to put people who can on the interview list and not you.
- The good news is you can update your lapsed certificates and go on courses while you are looking for a job. The courses are not cheap, but can be the difference between making interviews and not.
- An advert of your own should be well written and concise. The ‘anyone know of any jobs going’ type posts on social media seldom come to anything. Short, crisp, clean adverts with contact details occasionally do.
- Human nature being what it is, advertisements and posts with your name and personal email/mobile number will get a better response than a box number and a dodgy sounding email address.
- Be honest about the area you would prefer to work, the type of position you are looking for and your employment history.
- Reply immediately to prospective employers and be honest about your circumstances.
- Redundancies and shoot closures are nothing to hide.
- Lastly, get word out you are looking, have been made redundant and need a new job. Not everyone will know.
- While finding a new position will be occupying a huge amount of your time, there will be people out there who could help who will have no idea you are looking. Old friends, former employers, past headkeepers, Guns who have shot with you, college lecturers, feed reps, seed reps and anyone connected to the shooting world who thinks highly of you is worth a call. Odds on, one of them will have heard of something and, if nothing comes up immediately, don’t lose heart.
I have a couple of gamekeeper friends who were unemployed for more than a year following redundancy. Both are settled now and work on well-established shoots. Both of them are glad they kept looking, kept applying and toughed it out.