The issue of attracting the right number and quality of entrants to work in the land based industry has been an important and much discussed topic for many years…
There are some people within land based industries who frequently bemoan the quantity and quality of talent joining our industry and there have been a significant number of different careers initiatives over the years to try and address this. I’ve been personally involved in the promotion of horticulture as a career for many years, while working in colleges and then for the last ten years as part of the strategic steering group for the initiative set up to promote careers in horticulture, Grow Careers.
I was asked to Chair Grow Careers in 2006 by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) and was delighted to work with several leading organisations to develop the sector-wide initiative for promoting horticulture to (young) people. We aspired to ‘do it better’ than others had previously and, through research in schools, drew up a plan to focus on terms that school teachers, careers officers and parents would better understand. We communicated about horticulture in the context of; Science & Technology, Business, Heritage & Conservation, Sports & Leisure and Arts & Design. We set up a web site and social media, produced information packs, wrote articles and organised Grow Careers Days across the UK. We certainly made a mark, engaged leading organisations around a common goal and I believe we did inspire, inform and attract people into the sector. However, reflecting back on my leadership of the steering group up until 2014, I’d probably give myself 5 or 6 out of 10 in terms of the impact we had and I now believe that focusing solely on horticulture was not the best approach.
There are a number of excellent careers initiatives and information sources around specific sectors of land based. In addition to Grow Careers, there are, for example, Bright Crop, the IoG Young Board of Directors, Royal Forestry Society, Edge Careers and the soon to be launched Go Landscape. All these sector specific initiatives have a crucial place in inspiring and informing people towards land based careers and add great value to the whole careers support for our sector. I do believe, however, that as a sector we may be missing a trick and I would advocate far stronger linkage between these many initiatives and the creation of an overarching land based programme and tool kit. Such an umbrella initiative would better connect with a far wider audience and by inspiring young people in the many wonderful careers around land, food, greenspace, wildlife, countryside, conservation and the environment, my firm belief is that we would ultimately end up with far more entrants into all the sectors of our industry.
There are some strong strategic drivers for promoting wider land based careers to young people:
• The government’s Post-16 Skills Plan identifies the need to attract talent and clearly identifies the combined vocational route of Agriculture, Environmental and Animal Care (i.e. land based). I believe we should be aiming to deliver strongly towards the Government targets;
• Our colleges deliver across the full spectrum of land based vocations and would, I believe, value an initiative that attracted students across their whole curriculum range;
• BBC Countryfile continues to increase in popularity and the programme covers the whole spectrum of land based careers. Perhaps they’d sponsor such an initiative?!?;
• Importantly, a land based initiative would widen the horizons and opportunities for young people and ‘career changers’.
The NLBC ambition, now, is to see overarching careers information and guidance, which would strongly link to all the existing sector specific programmes. These sector initiatives are still very much required, but I believe we need something wider to inspire a larger audience to initially engage. In the last week I’ve attended and presented at two land based careers events; the inaugural Farmer’s Weekly Ag Careers Live at the Ricoh Arena in Coventry on 10th November and then two days later at the Grow Careers afternoon at Askham Bryan College, York. At both these events I had some great conversations with a number of enthusiastic young people, which all reaffirmed my thinking that careers promotion, information and guidance is certainly valued and also that a wider land based careers initiative could pay dividends for all.
This wider land based thinking is gaining support and I’m delighted to be involved in ongoing discussions with organisations including Bright Crop, Katie Garner (their Project Manager) and other staff within the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB) around careers promotion. I believe that Katie is right that we do not need a marketing initiative for careers, but instead we need a solid initiative around careers that does some marketing! We absolutely need to inspire people about land based careers, however, we need trained people to guide young people, strong links to careers advisors and schools, tool kits for them to use, and clear careers frameworks that show progression and how to get there.
There are wonderful careers within the land based sector, including many that are not only well paid, but also offer a wonderful quality of life and an opportunity to do something positive for our planet and the living things that inhabit it (including us!) Those of us in the land based industry are well aware of this and the importance of providing strong messaging and guidance to those who would be receptive. Careers promotion and guidance is an important strand within the wider skills agenda and my ambition is that a more joined up approach will be supported, established and deliver a far greater impact.