Banishing agriculture’s reputation as a closed shop and tying the mission to tackling climate change will be key to attracting the next generation to the industry, farm employers and academics said.
Representatives from across the food supply chain, supported by weekly farmersmet thousands of visitors, including school children, at New Scientist Live Manchester last month to help push the sector to the top of the list of jobs they aspire to.
The event, designed to inspire people to seek jobs in science, technology, engineering and math (Stem), showcased careers in agriculture alongside other sectors such as astronomy, medicine and energy.
The first two days were open to everyone, then on the third day the event was school-only.
weekly farmers was joined on its stand by key industry partners, all aiming to help agriculture shed the perception that it has limited opportunities for progression and only offers traditional farming roles.
See also: Entering dairy farming: options for new entrants
Watch the video to learn more about last month’s event and read the rest of the report below.
MPs have warned that UK farming faces a permanent contraction unless the government acts quickly to address severe labor shortages that are being felt throughout the supply chain.
Last year, there were about 500,000 job vacancies out of 4.1 million jobs in the food and agriculture sector, according to the United Nations Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee. Communes.
He said it was caused by Brexit and accentuated by the coronavirus pandemic.
See also: Agricultural apprenticeships: everything you need to know
More than a third of agricultural businesses are still struggling with labor absences due to the pandemic, according to a separate study published by Virgin Money.
While companies are asking for short-term solutions to this acute crisis, the long-term signs that the food industry will be able to attract good talent are more encouraging, even if there is still work to be done, according to experts.
A survey of school children at the event, by the Institute of Agriculture and Horticulture (Tiah), found that 90% agree that farming involves the use of science, technology, engineering skills and mathematics.
Tess Howe, head of memberships and business development at Tiah, said inspiring kids was just the first step to bringing them into the industry.
“Connecting with influencers is key,” she said. “Parents and guidance counselors are as important, if not more so, than children.”
This can simply mean pointing out jobs in the industry that people unrelated to the industry might not even realize exist, as well as highlighting likely future jobs that will be needed as the industry becomes more high-tech.
Tiah will soon publish the results of a major study that examines in more detail what prevents people from pursuing a career in agriculture.
Raising the visibility of agricultural careers is only part of the mission of Tiah, a newly formed organization funded by Defra and supported by agricultural organizations.
It aims to be the home of skills, careers and professionalism in agriculture, from recruitment through retirement, and will hopefully be a resource that some educators say is currently lacking.
Schools’ point of view
Nina Conlon, a science teacher at Buile Hill Academy in Salford, said farm organizations would push an open door if they wanted to help pupils in urban schools like hers learn more about the industry.
“Regarding their relationship [Stem careers] to the agriculture industry, I think it’s pretty stuck. I don’t think there’s that backcountry connection that they need and should have,” she said.
“A lot of students have huge goals for the environment and climate change – even air pollution. In terms of agriculture, I don’t think they see that connection between the two.
Bringing students to New Scientist Live has helped them bridge that gap, she said, with some of the higher education exhibitors choosing to focus on how they help solve those kinds of problems.
Focus on the floor
Holly Langridge, a research technician from the Soil and Ecosystems Ecology Laboratory at the University of Manchester, was part of a team helping children look under a microscope at the host of tiny organisms living inside a soil sample.
“It’s about making them realize that the soil is not just dead earth,” she said, noting that the soil in many countries is becoming less agriculturally productive.
“We will need more soil scientists as farming and growing food will become more difficult due to climate change, so we need more people doing research to alleviate this complexity,” she added.
At the other end of the size spectrum at the Future of Food & Agriculture exhibit was a Massey Ferguson 8S 265 tractor, which featured in a stream of selfies throughout the day, and no doubt encouraged a few visitors to consider becoming agricultural mechanics.
Richard Charles, aftersales training manager for UK and Ireland at Agco, said the dealer network was struggling to find the volume of technicians needed as the brand struggled to attract job candidates. sufficiently diversified horizons.
“We are seen as a closed shop and quite a backward industry in some cases,” he said. “We’re just trying to inspire the younger generation that farming is a viable career path and you don’t have to be a farmer to be in the industry,” he added.
“Almost all kids love a tractor at a young age. We just have to keep it that way and keep reminding them how wonderful these products are.
food for thought
Further down the supply chain, Morrisons, which spends £900million a year with UK farmers, was also present.
Sophie Jenkinson, who works in the agriculture, fishing and sustainable sourcing team, says helping to educate children about where food comes from is essential as a first step in drawing them into the area.
“We need new blood in the industry – the average age of a farmer only goes one way and unfortunately it is increasing.”
The company’s cheese-focused exhibit was a great conversation starter about all the necessary roles between the farm gate and the kitchen plate, she said, with the children being fascinated with it all. know about the manufacture of the product.
Yet, in addition to bringing children closer to farming, the sector also needed to reach them halfway and adapt to changing expectations, said James Vaughan and Simon Armstrong of dairy equipment maker GEA Farm Technology. .
They had brought a milking robot to highlight the professions of engineers in the sector, and particularly to inspire children from non-agricultural backgrounds. “Our industry needs more and more young people,” said Mr. Vaughan.
“There’s a lot of bad press in the industry, but there are some really good jobs in agriculture – but they’re well hidden.”
What is New Scientist Live?
New Scientist Live is the world’s largest science and technology fair.
Its Manchester event saw 6,206 visitors, including schoolchildren, family members and teachers, walk through the doors to enjoy static and interactive displays with inspiring talks.
An estimated 3,000 more people participated online. The event will return to ExCel London from October 7-9.