Agriculture is transforming into a high tech, precision industry and there are more exciting opportunities for young people than ever before. Chloe Palmer finds out how Bright Crop is seeking to attract the brightest and best to the industry.
For those already lucky enough to work in agriculture, the job satisfaction and the varied working day are just two reasons why the sector offers one of the most rewarding careers available.
But for many young people, agriculture is not even on their radar as a potential career choice, with the industry often perceived as low paid, low-tech and unappealing.
The Bright Crop initiative has set out to change this image. It seeks to demonstrate the array of exciting, interesting and well-paid roles in the industry to young people in education who are making vital career decisions.
By working in partnership with employers, industry representatives and enthusiastic young people employed in agriculture, the initiative has successfully showcased modern agriculture and the agri-food sector to teachers, careers advisers and students.
Bright Crop is administered by Farming and Countryside Education (Face) and is supported by a wide range of industry sponsors.
Katie Garner is Bright Crop’s project manager and she is passionate about the importance of raising the profile of agriculture among young people.
She says: “In 2011, Bright Crop commissioned research by Childwise, which showed agriculture as second from the bottom of a list of sectors chosen by young people for their future career.
“We believe this situation is driven by a lack of awareness, rather than a negative perception of agriculture.
“By 2021, we want agriculture to be in the top 10 choices.”
Katie is keen to point out the changing nature of agriculture and food production and the skills and expertise needed to allow the industry to respond to technological and marketplace developments.
“We produce food in new ways now compared to 10 years ago and the way we market and sell food is changing too,” she says.
“Agri-food needs people with different skills and expertise and we must reposition the industry in the minds of teachers, careers advisers and parents.”
One of the biggest tasks for Bright Crop is to attract young people with science, technology, engineering and maths qualifications to agriculture, to reflect the mix of employees needed in the industry.
“About 70 per cent of jobs in agriculture have a science, technology, engineering or maths foundation,” says Katie.
“These roles are more difficult to fill and the impact on the industry is potentially huge if insufficient high calibre candidates are coming forward.”
Targeting teachers and careers advisers is a top priority for Bright Crop, so having a presence at the major careers events across the country is a must for Katie and her team.
“Ultimately, Bright Crop’s aim is to be where young people go for information so we can help them understand what it means to work in the industry by promoting the various roles on offer.”
Agriculture has no formalised position in the national curriculum and Katie believes this is part of the problem as so few children understand what is involved in putting food on their plates.
“By working with other agricultural careers initiatives and various large employers, Bright Crop hopes to inform and inspire young people so they consider one of the many varied roles on offer in agri-food production,” says Katie.
Students with science, tecnology and engineering backgrounds are vital to the farming sector
Farmer Jim Franklin applied to be an ambassador for the initiative a year ago, after making some dramatic changes to his own business.
A tenant of the Aqualate Estate in Shropshire, Jim was forced to sell his dairy herd in October last year when his tenancy agreement ended prematurely.
Jim is now working on a range of different dairy farms as a contractor.
He says: “I do what I always used to, but for somebody else. So I am relief milking and rearing dairy heifers and I have just secured a contract as a Red Tractor assessor.”
His new business venture has allowed him to see wider opportunities beyond his own farmgate and he hopes he can communicate this to young people in his role for Bright Crop.
“I was looking for a challenge and I had always enjoyed hosting school visits on our farm. I love teaching children about farming,” Jim says.
When starting out as a Bright Crop ambassador, Jim attended an induction day explaining what the initiative is about, what to expect and how best to communicate effectively with young people.
“I ask the children what they enjoy and what their strengths are and explain some of the roles in agriculture which might be suited to them,” Jim says.
“Children always find the interactions with animals positive and many of them are interested in the veterinary aspects of farming. For me, cows were always at the heart of my business so I can relate to this.”
The Big Bang Fair in Birmingham in the summer was a chance for Jim to meet teachers, careers advisers and others involved in education and explain how much agriculture has to offer young people.
Jim believes the most important attribute for a Bright Crop ambassador is passion for farming and the ability to communicate it.
He says: “It is vital we can connect with young people and pass on our enthusiasm for what we do, speaking from our own experience. We need to influence children positively before they make the big decision about their future career.”
Working in partnership with the Inspiring the Future ambassador programme and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Network, Bright Crop’s ambassadors connect agri-food businesses with schools across the UK.
Bright Crop Ambassadors highlight the range of career opportunities available in agriculture and agri-food and demonstrate the diverse skills and qualifications needed to achieve and exceed in the industry.
“A Bright Crop Ambassador needs to be able to stand up in front of a group of people and keep an audience’s attention. Everyone I have met has been enthusiastic about Bright Crop and wants to know more.” (Jim Franklin, @milkmaker73)
The Bright Crop website contains videos, case studies and details on how to get more support.
Teachers and careers advisers are made aware of the initiative via education publications, the Face network and the Countryside Classroom partnership. An initial marketing campaign raised awareness of the initiative.
Bright Crop has published a guide to agricultural careers on its website, aimed at teachers and careers advisers and it is also planning training programmes.
The organisation has a presence at major careers events in England, including the National Big Bang event at the NEC. Ambassadors will attend regional fairs, including World Skills, and local events based at schools and colleges.
More careers information can be found at: www.edge.careers/
For careers in horticulture: www.growcareers.info/
Careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: www.stemnet.org.uk/
More information on Bright Crop: www.brightcrop.org.uk
"You must align yourself to a role and strive for it. No one will hand you a job.”
Heidi Neil joined AB Agri as a general nutritionist before being promoted to technical projects manager earlier this year.
As a nutritionist, Heidi researches many new areas, including new techniques for feeding, feed ingredients and new products.
Heidi admits she always wanted to work with animals and, after several stints with veterinary practices, she decided the work could often be routine, so she looked at other possible roles which might be available.
“I chose to study Zoology at university and I wanted a career where I could have a greater effect on a large population of animals. I love the variation of this role and the enjoyment I get from discovering new ideas,” Heidi says.
Heidi is positive about the future and excited about her role as a nutritionist, which will allow her to fulfil her personal ambitions.
She says: “I want to be in a position which is technical and innovative. I would like to be the go-to person for animal nutrition so I can help the welfare of farmed animals by improving production efficiency and performance.”
"Agriculture is an amazing industry to be in and there are so many opportunities to explore"
Adrian comes from farming family and an agronomy background and, although he was tempted to go back to the family farm, he was keen to get wider experience of the industry.
His role is to find trial sites and plan the trials, working closely with the host growers.
He says: “I make crop management decisions, such as crop protection recommendations, throughout the growing season. I show relevant parties around trials, including inspectors and seed breeders.”
Adrian is BASIS and FACTS qualified and he gained a BSc in Agriculture following A-levels in biology, business studies and design technology. He says a well-rounded knowledge of commercial and experimental agriculture is essential to his role, giving him the perspective to make the right decisions.
“Every day is different and my job relies heavily on common sense. Many of the scenarios I find myself in cannot be planned for due to the specialist nature of the job, so I have to make snap judgement calls.”
CropTec, the leading specialist arable event will host, in conjunction with the East of England Agricultural Society, an interactive workshop designed to offer students a diverse insight into career opportunities in the arable industry.
Sponsored by EDGE, the free event will highlight the diverse career opportunities in the food and farming industries, the different skills they require and how to approach specific companies and organisations for career advice and employment opportunities.
From practical farm management to research, technology, agronomy and consultancy, students will hear professionals from a range of disciplines and recent graduates who will explain a typical working day, roles, responsibilities, challenges and benefits.
CropTec, which opens for business on Tuesday, November 24, is organised by Briefing Media Agriculture and brings together farmers, industry experts and researchers, plus the latest products and services from more than 100 exhibitors. A comprehensive seminar programme also features 16 leading speakers covering a wide range of technical, practical and business issues.
The careers forum will be held on Wednesday, November 25 at the East of England Showground.
For more information on CropTec, visit www.croptecshow.com