Despite the impact of the double-dip recession, the agricultural industry is proving itself more resilient than many others and is making an increasingly important contribution to the economy, reflecting its key role in primary food production. Employers report continuing strong demand for skilled workers and a wide range of career opportunities for new entrants and young people.
Record Levels of Student Recruitment
Land-based Colleges such as Walford and North Shropshire College are reporting record numbers of young people applying for agriculture courses and apprenticeships since the credit crunch. Jon Parry, Director of the Walford Campus near Shrewsbury puts some of this down to the excellent progression rates for agriculture students “The mix of good quality training combined with practical experience on the College farm puts our students in a really good position to secure a good job even in the current economic downturn. For those who go on to Higher Education (such as Harper Adams), graduates find themselves amongst the most likely to secure paid employment at the end of their course”.
Work Hard, Play Hard
There is no question of agriculture being an easy option at College. In order to get students the skills they need, they take a range of practical legislative tests whilst at College in addition to their main level two or three BTEC qualification. They are also given a range of practical jobs on the College farm to give them appropriate work experience in a commercially-run unit (which is owned by the College and managed by one of its former students Neil Ridgway).
However, the hard work ethic is matched by some fantastic enrichment opportunities, of which the highlight is the annual exchange visit between Walford and Taratahi College in New Zealand. For many, this is the experience of a lifetime and the opportunity not only to visit down-under but to enjoy the company of fellow students on a three week adventure. During term time, students are encouraged to get involved in extra-curricular activity – an example of which being the 24 hour Ploughathon last September which raised almost £10,000 for charity.
Agriculture gets Technical!
One of the tasks of the “Careers in Farming and Food Supply” initiative is to dispel the myth that agriculture is a low tech, low wage industry. Both the complexity and scale of modern farm machinery and the increasing use of information technology require skills and competencies of a similar standard to many other areas of science, technology, engineering and manufacturing (STEM). Neil Ridgway, who became Walford Farm Manager at the age of just 29 has to be able to master these latest technologies whilst at the same time being able to manage and run a business with turnover fast approaching £1m a year. One of Neil’s latest challenges is to research robotic milking technologies in Europe as part of a grant-funded project, with a view to piloting robots at Walford Farm within the next few years.
Investing in the Future
With an ageing agricultural workforce, there is anticipated demand for some 50,000 replacement workers a year over the next ten years. To ensure food security and to reduce our dependency on imports, it is vital we attract new blood into the industry. With record recruitment into agriculture courses, there is a good prospect that the demands of employers can and will be met.
Walford & North Shropshire College is committed to expanding and updating its facilities to meet growing demand and reflect the trend towards greater automation and increased scale. Over the next two years, the College is planning to install a new dairy parlour and expand its sheep and dairy enterprises by some 50%. This investment is part of a long term development plan recognising the role of Walford as the premier land-based further education provider for Shropshire, Telford and the Marches.