Shetland farmer Julie-Ann is Scotland’s Apprentice of the Year

Julie-Ann Murray has been named Scotland’s Apprentice of the Year 2023 after she proved outstanding in her field while working on a sheep farm in Shetland.

Industry news
Published: 09/03/2023

As well as the top title, Julie-Ann won the Modern Apprentice SCQF Level 5 category sponsored by Scotland’s Apprentice Network at the Scottish Apprenticeship Awards.

The 21-year-old is now trusted to run the farm she works on, tending to a flock of up to 1,000 sheep and working round-the-clock during lambing season – and this allowed her employer to take their first holiday in five years.

Julie-Ann, from North Roe on the Shetland Islands, was announced as the overall winner by Jamie Hepburn MSP, Minister for Youth Employment and Training.

Mr Hepburn said: “The Scottish Apprenticeship Awards are a great opportunity to recognise the vital work of apprentices as well as the valuable support of employers and learning providers who enable apprentices to succeed. Well done to all of the finalists and winners, who have achieved so much.”

Determination and commitment

Mr Hepburn added: “Congratulations to Julie-Ann, who has shown exceptional determination, commitment and a real love of her dream job.

“Julie-Ann’s apprenticeship has made a huge difference to her and her career, as well as bringing benefits to her employer - all while developing and retaining key skills in the local community. Her successes demonstrates that apprenticeships are unlocking potential across Scotland.”

Julie-Ann was crowned the nation's top apprentice at the awards, which recognise the resilience and hard work of Foundation, Modern and Graduate Apprentices, as well as also employers, providers and individuals who champion apprenticeships.

She said: “I've changed a lot in my apprenticeship. It's given me so much confidence. My apprenticeship has made me confirm I want to be in agriculture and work in agriculture. I've done it all my life, it’s what I want to keep doing.”

Presenting the awards, broadcaster Jennifer Reoch welcomed guest presenters Ciaran Pugh, Scotland’s Apprentice Network member and Co-Chair of the Apprentice Engagement Group, and Jennifer Kolonko, Scotland's Apprentice of the Year 2022.  

Julie-Ann’s employer Pat Johnson, of I & P Johnson, said: “Julie-Ann’s youth and enthusiasm gives everybody a lift and she brings in fresh ideas. I was able to go on holiday for the first time in five years, confident that all the work would be done properly and the animals well looked after, thanks to Julie-Ann. She is a real asset.” 

Julie-Ann had been desperate to stay on the island and work with animals but faced a lack of opportunities and the expense of going to college on the mainland. 

But the ex-Brae High School pupil persevered and after a trial with Pat landed a job as an Agricultural Modern Apprentice on the farm.

“I've changed a lot in my apprenticeship. It's given me so much confidence. My apprenticeship has made me confirm I want to be in agriculture and work in agriculture. I've done it all my life, it’s what I want to keep doing.”
Julie-Ann Murray, Scotland's Apprentice of the Year 2023

Double winner Julie-Ann said: “Doing a full-time course would have meant being off the island for long periods, but we live on a croft and I didn’t want to leave everything for my dad to do. I also have my two dogs and a horse to look after. 

“A full-time college course meant paying for accommodation and travel which is very expensive, so it didn’t work for me.  

“The Modern Apprenticeship allows me to do what I love, gain experience and a qualification, and be more financially independent. 

“I heard about Modern Apprenticeships from a Skills Development Scotland careers adviser at school and she put me in touch with the learning provider.” 

Julie-Ann attends SRUC Barony Campus in Dumfries for five weeks a year and is progressing to a Level 6 Modern Apprenticeship.  

Her jobs on the farm also include repairing fences and driving tractors and quad bikes. She quickly learned the signs of sickness in the animals and how to treat them, saving some from serious illness, and plays a key role working round the clock during lambing season.

UHI Shetland Vocational Training Coordinator Janice Leask said: “Julie-Ann’s confidence has really improved throughout her Modern Apprenticeship and she has gained important life skills.”

Chair of Skills Development Scotland, Frank Mitchell said: “Apprenticeships are more critical now than ever, due to fast-paced changes in the workplace, and apprentices can be employed in real jobs making sure the skills gained are current through work-based learning.

“The Scottish Apprenticeship Awards provide a platform to show how apprenticeships can help to create a diverse and inclusive workforce and that opportunities have been taken by individuals from across society, who have gone on to flourish in the workplace.

“It’s the 21st anniversary of the Awards, which is testament to the value that Scotland places on apprenticeships. The quality of award nominations was very high and I’d like to thank all the employers, learning providers and sponsors for their support and congratulate all of this year’s apprentice finalists and winners.” 

The Scottish Apprenticeship Awards was organised by Scotland’s skills agency, Skills Development Scotland, and took place during Scottish Apprenticeship Week from 6 to 10 March. 

Get the latest direct to your inbox

Sign-up to our newsletter to receive updates and latest news.

Newsletter sign up