Leaving university can be a daunting prospect. As students look to enter full-time employment, the key is to plan earlier than your peers. Emily Scaife takes a look at some cross-sector industry opportunities tailored to new graduates.
In response to recruiting a younger generation, numerous organisations within the food and farming industry have established graduate schemes to help bridge the gap.
Providing a unique insight into different departments of a business and giving graduates the opportunity to try their hand at new skills, these schemes are a perfect first step onto the career ladder.
Stuart Goodinson, managing director of DeLacy, believes a good scheme can set a graduate up for life.
He says: “As an executive recruiter, I can see how much value it adds to their CV. I can be sure they are likely to be a strong candidate if they have come through a quality company.
“Graduate schemes provide a clear career path to students before applying for university placements, as well as during. They can also open a student’s eyes to potential careers they have never before thought about.
“From an industry perspective, a good graduate scheme could entice people from outside agriculture. From a business point of view, it can be great PR and advertising for a company with a good scheme.”
Here, we speak to four people currently undertaking such programmes to find out about the interview process, how their scheme is structured and lessons learned so far.
Alisha Anstee decided to apply for the NFU Agricultural Policy Graduate Scheme after specialising in soil during her environmental science degree at the University of Nottingham.
The 23-year-old admits the three-stage interview process was tough, but the process was made as stress-free as possible.
Miss Anstee says: “The reason the application is so thorough is so both the NFU and you can determine if you are right for the role.”
She arrived at the company’s headquarters in Stoneleigh for her first day in September 2017, ahead of a two-week induction, before finding out where she would be spending the first six months.
The scheme offers a wide range of placements graduates can undertake to develop their skillset, giving them chance to learn from a variety of industry specialists.
She says: “I spent the first six months with the economics team working on everything from organising the inaugural NFU Business Symposium to meeting members on-farm to talk about how HS2 is going to affect their businesses.”
In March, Miss Anstee began a stint with the food chain team and, in September, she will relocate to work at one of the NFU’s seven regional offices.
She says: “This will be much more member-focused than the policy work at HQ. I am excited to have the opportunity to experience this and gain a new skillset.”
She believes the scheme has already taught her a great deal: “Coming out of university and into the real world makes you realise theory can only get you so far.
“I have presented to a branch meeting full of members and have learned so much about practical farming in each of the commodity sectors. I have also learned about the strength of the NFU’s lobbying power, which I am still in awe of, and the process of electing our officeholders.
“I had heard of the NFU prior to applying, but as I do not come from a farming background, I was not entirely sure of its work. Eight months in and I still learn something new about the organisation each and every day.”
History graduate Jonathan Thambirajah did not have an agricultural background, but was drawn to the structure of the Management Development Services (MDS) scheme, which provides participants the opportunity to experience four roles in four different companies over two years.
He says: “I had a passion for food growing up, so I was surprised and excited when I noticed the window of application was open from those without direct experience in agriculture, fresh produce or the food supply chain.”
When the 23-year-old joined the organisation in March 2017, he worked as a demand planner, organising production at Nature’s Way, Chichester.
Mr Thambirajah says: “I am currently working at Certis Europe in the marketing team in Cambridge. As well as working on the new company website, I am helping with process improvement and implementing new systems.
“For my next secondment, I will be working for Fyffes in a production management role at its Livingston ripening centre.”
He believes the fast-paced nature of the scheme has improved his time-management skills.
He says: “I was surprised how quickly I have been able to adapt and feel confident and competent in roles and parts of the industry I have had no prior experience in after such a short space of time.
“MDS provides management and leadership training alongside our secondments, which I have found really useful in real workplace scenarios.
“We were taught basic business and management skills, including good strategy, process improvement and recruitment.
“Attending a course at Cranfield School of Management was a good learning experience too, as I learned coaching skills and was given advice on conflict resolution and team working.”
Mr Thambirajah admits relocating every six months is not easy, but MDS is very supportive.
He says: “Other trainees are great when it comes to relocating. It definitely helps we are sharing the MDS experience together.”
The scheme has opened his eyes to the fresh produce and the food industry and he is keen to pursue a career in this area when his final placement ends.
“If you have an interest in agriculture, fresh produce, supply chain and retail, or any one of those in particular, MDS will provide you with a well-rounded, challenging and enjoyable experience.”
Jess Tomley always knew she wanted to work in the beef processing industry after finishing her agriculture degree at Harper Adams University.
She says: “The ABP scheme integrates all aspects of the beef supply chain, from our rearing sites under blade farming, through to relationships with finishing units on farms throughout the UK, and onto our own abattoirs, finishing with the marketing and sales of our product.”
After successfully getting through the interview stage, which explores applicants’ ambitions within the industry, their problem-solving skills and their particular interests, Miss Tomley completed a month-long induction with ABP before spending three months experiencing all aspects of the ABP blade farming system.
She says: “From spending time on rearing units, I understood the importance of good animal health and welfare in this process. It has also been useful to understand the different calf schemes and their importance to our retailer customers.”
At present, she is helping on a retailer account with one of the ABP agri managers, for which cultivating farmer relationships is key.
She says: “I am also spending more time in our factories learning about the abattoir process in more detail. Seeing how fast butchers work on the line and the skills they have was a real eye opener, particularly when I spent a few days at ABP Yetminster, our lamb processing site, and seeing the difference between beef and lamb being processed.”
Miss Tomley encourages other graduates to consider applying for the scheme: “I feel lucky to be able to work for such a renowned company within the agriculture industry.
“ABP offers graduates many opportunities to get involved in such a competitive industry and encourages graduates to push themselves and experience all the different areas within the business.
“The company wants to use your strengths and what you enjoy in order to place you in areas where you can grow personally and help the business.”
After her placement finishes in September 2019, Miss Tomley hopes to stay on at ABP as an agri manager.
She says: “Already I see and understand the role agri managers play in bringing retailers and farmers together, helping both to understand each other, the future of the industry and trends in consumer demand.”
A graduate scheme with a difference, the Barclays Higher Apprenticeship Scheme gives participants the opportunity to undertake a full degree from the London Institute of Banking and Finance while they are working.
Bethan Morgan, 30, had been employed by Barclays for six years when she learned about the scheme.
She says: “There are not many opportunities out there, so when the apprenticeship came up I thought it sounded like a fantastic opportunity.
“I am based in Wales and live on a farm near Llanfair Waterdine, Shropshire, with my family and partner George, a contract shepherd.
“Working in personal banking in the local area meant I talked to farmers a lot and it really gave me the drive to get into it, especially when you can see what they have done with the money Barclays has lent them and how it has changed their lives.
“I met one customer who talked about how they would not have their farm if it was not for the agriculture manager they spoke to at the bank. It made me realise it was what I wanted to do.”
The interview process begins with an online assessment for numeracy skills, then a video interview, before progressing to an assessment centre.
Miss Morgan, who was one of six successful applicants, says: “It is a really thorough application process, but there is no need to worry, as if you are not confident in one area, you can shine elsewhere.”
The scheme, which is the only agricultural apprenticeship programme in banking, involves visiting customers on-farm and shadowing managers before apprentices are given their own portfolio.
She says: “You can learn at your own pace and there is no rush. Even if you do not have a farming background, you get a crash course in everything, as they really want you to understand agriculture is different to every other type of business.”
The apprenticeship has opened Miss Morgan’s eyes to diversification and its growing importance in the industry.
She says: “Farmers are so passionate about their businesses and are really keen to show you what they are working on. My family farm is a sheep and beef farm, so it has been really interesting learning about something completely different, like dairy or arable farming. This is honestly the best job I have ever had.”