Over the last few months we have looked at the emerging career expectations and goals of the next generation as the industry looks at tackling recruitment. Sarah Todd suggests lessons can be learned from other disciplines combined with the unique power agriculture already has.
Agriculture offers a rewarding lifestyle and more needs to be done to promote one of our industry’s best-kept secrets.
When it comes to speaking to experts within the fields of army and education, there are serious lessons to be learned when it comes to recruitment.
With challenges such as Brexit and climate change there has never been a greater need for sustainable farming in the UK.
But with industry leaders warning of a severe shortage of new recruits – a Royal Agricultural Society of England report puts the figure at 60,000 – one of the greatest challenges facing our sector is how to grow the workforce.
It is an issue Farmers Guardian regularly reports on and the #ThisIsAgriculture campaign has already examined shortfalls in the education system, careers advice and the industry’s ability to promote itself as a high-tech career option, as opposed to a low-skilled and a low-paid ‘dirty’ route of pursuit.
This month we wonder if the best-selling point for farming has been staring us all in the face: the lifestyle.
This is the path the British Army switched to in the New Year and, for the first time in years, it is on track to meet its recruitment target.
In stark contrast to its tough image, the army has confidently staged adverts suggesting it is fine for soldiers to cry, pray and show emotion; resulting in applications to be a regular soldier hitting a five-year high.
The change in tack came after the Ministry of Defence discovered 72 per cent of young people are ambitious, yet feel undervalued, and want a job with real purpose.
Colonel Ben Wilde, assistant head of army recruiting, says: “People embarking on their professional life often do not just want a job; they want to do something that matters.”
This conclusion has also been reached in teaching, with recruitment advertising focusing on making a difference to young people’s lives.
Rather than attempting to paint a picture of climbing up a well-paid career ladder to the dizzy heights of head- teacher, the message is much more about the personal fulfilment which comes with helping children.
Simon Haley, co-founder of Social Jungle, a social media training and consultancy firm specialising in the agri, food and rural business sectors, says: “If we want to attract people, we have to show them a window into the world of farming.
“Agriculture as an industry is very good at downplaying and not understanding the significance of the lifestyle element and how it appeals to others.”
Simon, whose Twitter account @FarmersOfTheUk has 39,200 followers and is guest-hosted by a different farmer each week, believes family-run farming businesses in particular can take the pulling power of the surrounding landscape for granted.
He says: “Agriculture’s recruitment problems could certainly be helped if the industry shouted more about things such as commutes which are just 10 minutes down a country lane, or the possibility of bringing a dog to work.
“Things such as being surrounded by an impressive landscape, rather than concrete walls and traffic, to being able to get some fresh air at lunchtime, are huge attractions.”
Simon believes that if there are two jobs advertised and one has a positive online presence, such as on Twitter, it is more likely to get the most applicants.
He says: “There is definitely a shift away from wages being the main motivator when it comes to employment.
After all, we can often be spending more time with the people we work with than our own family, especially in an industry with long hours, such as agriculture.
“If applicants can click on photos or, even better, short 30-second videos, and build up a picture of somewhere being a rewarding place to work, this may well be more of a sway than the pay.
“Try and get across the personality of your business.
Think personal reality, don’t edit out the bad days when you lose a calf or the tractor breaks down.
“It is the real-life relatability of a business which will help attract the right applicants.”
In addition to more hands-on farming staff, Simon, who is a Harper Adams University graduate and spends the bulk of his time working as a rural business consultant, suggests agricultural graduates are not necessarily always the way to go.
He says: “Sometimes progressive farming businesses need to flip things on the head to get different skillsets.
If an agricultural-based business needs a data scientist, why not look at somebody with a computer science degree?
“Rather than working in an office on a dreary out-of-town business park, they could be completely bowled over with somewhere they could maybe bike to work, go for a run on a lunchtime, take the dog to work with them and there be a pub in the nearby village.
“It is so important to showcase the lifestyle element of working within agriculture.”
Claire Morgan, a director at Worcester-based Agricultural Recruitment Specialists confirms people often say salary is not the main motivator when it comes to applying for rural jobs.
She says: “We are really not interested in ‘quick sales’.
It is far more satisfying when you get the feedback of how it has made a difference to someone’s life, family and well-being.
That in turn makes them a motivated and successful employee.
Happy employees make for successful businesses.”
Simon Haley says rural businesses should think of a traditional three-legged milking stool before posting.
Each leg represents an element: sharing information; socially conversing with peers; and showcasing what businesses do.
He says: “An account which just does the first, sharing factual information, is going to be boring.
One which is just social stuff is annoying.
One which is ‘look at me’ showing off about achievements is a real turn off.
“Those looking at career options are much more likely to be inspired and interested by a real-life picture of events.
“There is no doubt in my mind that this lifestyle element can be more attractive than salary alone.”
Traditional rural perks, such as a cottage or a four-wheel drive vehicle, remain attractive options for getting the best candidates to the table, rather than simply salary alone.
NFU education manager Josh Payne believes it is very important for farmers to share their real-life stories if the next generation is to be inspired.
He says: “When it comes to growing the agricultural workforce, it is so important for farmers to actively promote the huge breadth of career options available within agriculture.
“Whether it is showcasing new technology or the day-to-day running of a farm shop, it is vital we share stories in order to showcase our fantastic industry.”
Louise Manning, professor of agri-food and supply chain security at the Royal Agricultural University, says in addition to the lifestyle agriculture offers, the fact there is such a wide range of careers must not be underestimated.
She says: “With all the challenges around how we feed the world fairly, make space for nature and address political and climatic upheaval, there has never been a better time to have a car- eer in food production and farming.
“The next 20 years will see a step-change in how we care for the land and nature and also how we produce our food.
This means there will be a range of career opportunities which unfolds; some not yet even identified.”
Major general Paul Nanson, head of army recruiting, says: “The army recognises young people’s need for a bigger sense of purpose in a job where they can do something meaningful.”
In one advert, a young person is seen avidly playing computer games, to the derision of his family, before his interest in technology is shown to be a skill sought after by the military.
In another, a supermarket trolley stacker is seen being ridiculed by her colleagues for being slow, before she is then shown in a combat situation where patience and attention to detail are critical.
While the Get Into Teaching website (getintoteaching.education.gov.uk) makes mention of ‘competitive salary, generous pension and up to 13 weeks of holiday allowance’, its main focus is on emotional rewards and real-life experiences.
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.
Visit the series homepage for more information