Sarah Todd looks at two industries which have fought back against critics to win the deserved attention from the next generation.
Industries such as construction and engineering could hold the key to agriculture’s recruitment problems, as the sectors have reversed their recruitment challenges with impressive results.
All three industries have traditionally been seen as low-skilled and low-paid, not to mention not very ethnically diverse, with an arguably male-dominated population.
Jane King, chief executive of ADHB, believes the similarities do not end there.
She says: “The construction industry is similar to agriculture as it has few very large operations, but is mostly made up of a proliferation of small- to medium-sized businesses.
“Historically, like agriculture, construction has been seen to have a problem with health and safety.
“It was seen as low-skilled work, not very diverse and not appealing to women.
“But the Construction Industry Training Board has turned it around and we are busy trying to learn more about how this has happened.”
Jane is part of the Skills Leadership Group, a collaboration of retailers, manufacturers, leading food producers, farmers and agricultural colleges.
Established earlier this year, its aim is to launch an institute for skills for agriculture and horticulture by summer next year.
This will give a co-ordinated approach to training, career guidance, new and relevant qualifications, continued professional development and business support.
Jane says: “Like construction, we need one place where people can go to get information about jobs, skills or training.
There is a new chapter ahead of us post-Brexit.
“With subsidies turned off and new policy, plus environmental issues, we need to be much more professional in our approach and recognise a whole new set of skills which will be required to build a brighter future.”
At the heart of the institute will be a website destination for all information, agricultural or horticultural, very much following in the footsteps of construction and engineering.
Jane says: “The next step is to start a national conversation.
A major goal is for agriculture to be recognised as a STEM science-based subject.”
STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and refers to any subjects which fall under these four disciplines.
Jane says: “Gaps in the horticultural sector, especially post-Brexit, include hands-on labour for picking and packing.
But we also need to be thinking about attracting science students; people who would not necessarily have a connection with agriculture.
“We need to get the message out that farming is not just about driving a tractor.
“There is a lot of work still to do with teachers, which is what the construction industry found, as many seem to have a dated view about what the industry is about.
“In short, the days of a simple careers leaflet saying ‘be an engineer’ or ‘work in agriculture’ are long gone.
Industries need to be much cleverer and subtly get their message across through issues young people are interested in.
“Farming has an absolute gift at the moment with how engaged teenagers are in the environment and sustainability.
They are already actively consuming news and advertisements about these issues.
It is just being clever and dovetailing agriculture’s message into this.”
As part of National Careers Week, held in March, a video was launched showcasing agriculture at the cutting edge of modern technology and at the forefront of innovations in key areas, such as IT, forensics, engineering, automation and design.
Rhys adds that engineering has been very disciplined in its spend, ‘low millions not high millions’, and has gone with outside professionals.
Engineering decided early it was a false economy not to spend any money and not look outside for ideas.
He says: “We have had to spend.
Young people who are used to looking at adverts from the likes of Coca Cola or Nike were not going to look twice at some film we made in- house.
“The quality and style of everything has had to be spot on.
Better to spend no money than waste it on films and photography nobody would look at.” Engineering is just entering the second phase of its campaign, which is to broaden it out to parents.
He says: “We could not be specific enough to just target parents, so it is aimed at the general adult population.
The sort of people who would presume engineering was a low-paid and low-skilled job.
“It is the obvious next stage, as there is no point engaging young people and then their parents and wider family giving a negative reaction when they talk about a career in engineering.”
Part of the campaign was the first ever National Engineering Day on November 6.
“Yes, there is cynicism from some about there being a day for everything.
But my thinking is, why not engineering? Having a special day creates media interest; they work.”
Rhys says he was ‘blown away’ on a visit to Harper Adams University, seeing GPS trackers in tractors, lasers used to burn weeds between lettuces, targeted jet spraying of diseases and drones being used to fly boxes ladybirds in to tackle pests on crops.
He says: “Farming has it all from a young person’s point of view: the environment and technology.
“Agriculture should be seen as a very exciting and rewarding career.” But how should we evaluate the success of these campaigns? Whys says: “Of course, we get feedback every day of the week.
But no industry can look at a campaign like ours and expect to be able to evaluate success overnight.
“It is when the 12- or 13-year-olds we started targeting at the beginning start making their crucial decisions, A-levels then university courses, when we will really be able to start analysing.
“Engaging with engineers, or farmers, of the future is not some- thing to look at in the short-term.”
Farmers Guardian has joined forces with 21 key industry stakeholders from across the farming sector to launch a new campaign, #ThisIsAgriculture, to promote careers in agriculture.
The challenge of recruiting is not a new one. Attracting new blood into the industry has always been an issue, with agriculture rarely sold as an exciting option into schools.
However, with the pace of technological change rapidly widening the skills gap and Brexit looming, the need to drive change within the industry has intensified greatly over recent years.
Building on the learning from the #ThisIsAgriculture survey, this initiative will work to educate the wider world about the wealth of opportunities available within the sector, as well as dispelling common myths about careers in agriculture.
We will also be collaborating with industry bodies and our industry partners to see where we can work together to shape the political agenda, drive educational reform and provide learning resources.
The campaign will also be sharing information with readers about how to attract – and retain – the right staff for farming businesses across the UK.