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Cereals 2024 – Getting the Next Generation into Agriculture

19 days ago by Natalie Smith

​With a dedicated team recruiting for all roles within the Agricultural sector, we thought it time we made a stronger presence at Cereals and bought our purple MorePeople gazebo to stand 201 last month at Cereals 2024.

Our chairman, Guy Moreton, had the opportunity to host a panel session over both days on ‘How to get the next generation into Agriculture’. It’s been a hot topic for some time, the Agricultural sector (and many of the other industries we recruit into), struggle to attract new, young employees. It’s an industry that has many stigmas attached to it such as thinking you need to come from a farming family to be able to work in agriculture for example, and there not being much awareness of what opportunities there are.

Joined by other industry experts to discuss the topic, take a read to see how we tackled these misconceptions on day 1 with a summary of each discussion.

Stephen Jacob, CEO of The Institute for Agriculture and Horticulture explained how the average age of a farmer is not as old as the media makes out – 84% of farmers are younger than 55, but the average age is often quoted at 58. The media portrays an inaccurate image of an older workforce which doesn’t help the struggle to attract new and younger generations to the industry. TIAH are working hard on promoting both the Agriculture and Horticulture industries as great places to work, and Stephen asked how do young people get to learn from the ‘outside’ if they don’t come from rural backgrounds? We must influence influencers such as parents, career advisors, governments etc. TIAH have done magazine articles in general careers magazines where you wouldn’t normally see Ag and Hort careers, but we need to try new things and advertise where all the other industries are advertising, too. It’s important to try new things and find what catches people’s interest and attention.

Henry Welham, Senior Agriculture Manager at British Sugar, shared his experience of not coming from an agricultural or farming background but has worked in agriculture for 10 years now. Henry grew up in the countryside but admits the awareness of roles in ag and the availability of roles just isn’t there, there is a perception of long hours and it being a ‘dirty’ job. We all have a duty to promote the industry differently and create awareness of the different types of roles available that don’t just exist on a farm, such as those in tech, engineering, data analysis and the work that goes towards supporting British farmers. The industry is growing and changing with more opportunities than ever, young people just need to go for it and be willing to learn.

Adam White, Head of Agriculture at Barclays stated he was similar to Henry and didn’t come from ‘farming stock’. We get exposed to media headlines about the sector such as ‘the sector won’t be here in 5 years, it’s full of 80-year-olds, not attractive to youngsters’ and so on. But this is just a media perception, not the reality. We need to ensure young people have ways to learn about the sector - social media is the perfect tool to explain the sector, what’s going on, opportunities available and bring it all to life. Barclays showcase what big successful agricultural firms do and attracting a new younger workforce is about showcasing that success. Companies should be making use of apprenticeship schemes and push themselves to take on more young people who can learn about Agriculture.

James Little, Head of Commercial Agriculture, British Sugar followed next.

James spoke about an obvious observation about the panel and of course a wider issue in the sector, the significant need for an improvement in diversity in the sector. It didn’t go unnoticed that our panel consisted of white males, the majority of which were middle-aged and the panel for day two had just one female. James stated we need to broaden our horizons in hiring people and take a bold step to open up as it is quite a closed industry. He commented on TIAH’s work advertising in general careers magazines – we’re competing for the same talent so why not use the same tools that other sectors use to try and attract more people to the sector and get more eyes on the opportunities available – we need to be focusing on all roles available in agriculture not just production. What languages are we using to attract the right people? Are job adverts too closed to not open the eyes of new young people in the industry? James then spoke about the importance of succession and development opportunities to keep the new talent in the industry and enrich their career and the importance of how we feel on a Sunday night before work.

British Sugar takes a broad approach to how they bring people in and focus on developing skill sets and focusing on their capabilities, they recognise bringing people from different industries bring different skill sets and add value by thinking in different ways. British Sugar also tests changing the names of job titles and assess the kind of candidates applying based on the wording to broaden their workforce.

It's a well-debated topic, and I’m sure there is much we can all learn from and many more discussions to have. Our day two-panel session continued with Karl McConville from Strutt and Parker, William Burgess from Burgess Farms, Jon Tanner from Agrovista, Tess Howe from TIAH and Henry Welham from British Sugar.

I think the main takeaways are;

  • Broaden our horizons – don’t advertise in places that only people in agriculture will see – fight for the same talent other sectors do.

  • Test language to attract a range of candidates who will bring new skills and ways of doing things

  • The sector needs to find ways to showcase the breadth of opportunities and roles and get this in front of young people