Fresh produce growers across the UK are looking to apprentices to fill the recruitment gap caused by the pandemic.
Management Development Services (MDS), which provides a graduate training programme for the fresh produce sector, has seen a surge in demand for degree-level apprentices from employers in the last eight months.
It placed 50 per cent more graduates in the Autumn than the same time last year.
James Simpson, managing director of Kent-based fruit grower and packer Adrian Scripps, recently recruited its first MDS graduate trainee.
Mr Simpson said: "We have been looking at how we can accelerate recruitment in the home market as we are finding it more and more difficult to recruit the right people into our business, partly due a declining interest in a career in the sector and to the limitations imposed by Brexit on employing foreign staff."
He said the new graduate was leading the integration of a new software system into the business which ultimately would improve the overall efficiency of the operations.
MDS said it had seen a sharp rise in applications from university graduates this summer.
Kirsty Barden, MDS business development manager, said: "The food and fresh produce industry has been in the spotlight since March, which has boosted its reputation as an aspirational career for ambitious graduates. We have attracted talent from a wider net of disciplines, which can be very attractive for employers. Bringing in engineering or marketing minds can support aspects of their business which need nurturing.
"It is also an opportunity for the industry to showcase the variety and rewards of a career in fresh produce to young people. It may have been a bigger job for us, having to select from so many applications, but the standard is higher than ever to the benefit of the industry.”