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Agriculture: why is it still seen as a second-class career option?

Agriculture: why is it still seen as a second-class career option?

As someone lucky enough to witness the work that occurs within the UK's agricultural industry, I often find myself wondering why more people don't consider a career in agriculture. 

One of the problems is that the agricultural industry is incorrectly regarded as a place for the academically challenged and low achievers; a second-class career choice, where people carry out mundane tasks and earn low wages. 

What people don't realise is that many of their misconceptions regarding the industry are flawed and that, once these flaws are exposed, a career in agriculture suddenly seems a lot more appealing. 

One of the main misunderstandings that people hold is that unless you are a farmer's son or daughter and take over the running of a family farm, there are limited job opportunities available in agriculture. 

This assumption is incorrect and there are an abundance of work roles within the industry that don't require you to own your own farm. These include farm and herd managers, feed nutritionists, agronomists, research scientists and specialist mechanical engineers to name but a few. 

What's more, in a challenging economic climate where employment can be hard to come by, there is demand for well-qualified and hard working employees. Evidence of this can be found in a recent survey, which reported that 98% of Harper Adams University graduates leaving with a first class degree are now in full time employment (or further education).

These job opportunities also help to dismiss the idea that all agricultural work is low paid, monotonous and involve working long hours.  Those leaving university and gaining a place on an agricultural graduate scheme can expect to earn the same amount as a graduate in the business sector and, because of the restricted level of competition, those who work hard (graduate or not) can achieve rapid career progression within the industry.

And, whilst many on-farm jobs can involve longer working days, many of agriculture's ancillary roles, such as feed consultants and agronomists, do operate on a more or less 9-5 basis. 

However, even taking these points into consideration, there will still be those who believe that there are more important and prestigious careers paths to follow than agriculture.  I would urge these people to take a moment and assess the importance of agriculture to the UK and the increasingly vital role that it will play in helping sustain society in the future.

 The NFU claims that between 2007 and 2013, UK agriculture's contribution to the economy increased by 67%, with agricultural output rising from £16 billion to £25.7 billion. As such, the agri-food industry plays a vital economic role in the UK and supports 3.6 million jobs as well as contributing more than £97 billion to the economy.

With an increasing national population, our agricultural industry is also vital if we are to ensure domestic food security in the future. In 1920 each farmer fed 19 mouths; now each farmer feeds 155 mouths, and that figure is increasing.

But what can be done to change people's perception of agriculture and help them realise that it is an attractive career option?

One of the key things is to highlight the number of job opportunities that there are within the agricultural industry and how people can go about obtaining them.  

A brilliant example of this is Bright Crop, an organisation that runs a website dedicated to careers in agriculture. They provide a hub of online information where people can go to read about different job roles, watch video testimonials and gain careers advice. It is a bright, positive and fresh advertisement for agriculture.

Alongside such initiatives, more effort needs to be made to promote agriculture at schools to get children thinking positively about the industry.  It was a great shame when the BTEC national diploma in agriculture, a widely recognised qualification, was scrapped from school league tables in 2014. It hardly helps to reinforce a positive, pro-agricultural message to school children.

There is no doubt that more work could also be done by the industry to help educate careers advisors. I certainly never recall being informed about potential roles in agriculture when I was at school, even though I was interested in farming, loved the outdoors and had good grades (perhaps that was the problem).

Career advisors are the people who sow seeds of inspiration in the young and are on the 'front line' of influencing career choices. If they better understand the benefits of the agricultural industry themselves, they are more likely to pass this positivity on to the young people they advise.

The agricultural industry is large, innovative and important. It is a great shame that more people do not see it that way and we have to hope that the work the industry is already doing can be improved upon and help change people's perceptions. Only then will agriculture been seen as a vibrant and interesting career choice for students of all abilities and interests.

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