Page 32 - Farm labour in the UK
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people are not fully aware of all of the occupational opportunities available through the agricultural sector (Hughes et al 2015). A large proportion of those surveyed felt that the sector was not attractive to new graduates and 46% suggested that an improvement in advertising and marketing might assist young people’s awareness of the opportunities available in farming. One suggestion has been to introduce agriculture into the curriculum. Some respondents think this best done by an optional qualification. Others think it should be woven into the core subjects, like maths and science, familiarising children with the subject so that all children have the option to develop an interest in farming. A GCSE in agriculture and land use was introduced in 2014, which has gradually gained in popularity since its inception (CEA 2020). It is an optional qualification available to children at secondary education level. Several respondents believe that this poses the risk that only children who already have a connection to farming will opt for such a course, potentially alienating other children who have no farming knowledge. One expert thinks that all children should be introduced to farming much earlier.
“I think we have to start at an early age. We shouldn’t be waiting until they are in their fifth year. We should be starting at primary level and just drip-feeding them information. They are not thinking about leaving school or anything, but [saying] ‘this could be a potential career for you’” (Labour expert 3)
In 2023, a new agricultural qualification under the new T-level system will also be introduced. It offers the technical equivalent to A-levels by combining classroom theory, practical learning and a placement within industry. In Scotland, Rural Skills SCQF qualifications are already available as further education options.
A study of 314 14-15 year olds in Devon (RSA 2019) revealed that less than half had a sufficient understanding of the careers available within the farming sector, with few showing an interest in such careers. Over 50% stated that they would be unlikely to consider a career in food and farming and 60% of students equated roles in farming with low pay, and
long and inflexible hours. This is despite the fact that over half of them had some familiarity with the industry.
In terms of course enrolment, numbers of students enrolling in agriculture and related subjects has increased by 5.4% over ten years (2007/8 – 2016/17), while academic staff employed in agriculture, forestry and veterinary science have increased by 27.9 % over ten years, although as a proportion they only make up 1.3 % of all staff in total (Universities UK 2018).
However, one expert outlined how simply attracting younger people into the industry is not enough, as they are likely to face immediate barriers.
“What are you going to do, give them a power washer for three weeks and expect them to stay with you, when they’ve just had to bike 15 miles to get to you because they’re not old enough to drive a car, and their mum can’t afford to drop them off and pick them up every day. There are so many different things that we have to think about to make ourselves more attractive, and that’s empowering people to do what they want to do in the way they want to do it, as long as it’s delivering the results for the farm”(Farming rep 4)

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