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Sainsbury’s research reveals image problem could threaten the future of British farming

According to research by Sainsbury’s, the UK agricultural industry risks missing out on a new generation of young farmers due to outdated perceptions of what careers in the industry actually involve.

Sainsbury's Apprenticeship Scheme

Sainsbury’s Apprenticeship Scheme

According to research by Sainsbury’s, the UK agricultural industry risks missing out on a new generation of young farmers due to outdated perceptions of what careers in the industry actually involve. Sainsbury’s is calling on young adults to consider a career in the sector as it opens applications for its horticultural and agricultural apprenticeship programmes this September.

The research, led by YouGov, showed that:

  • 79% of young adults would not consider a career in farming
  • Almost half of respondents who would not consider a career in farming [47%] say they don’t have the skills to work in the sector
  • 33% said they thought the work was hard, while 22% simply don’t know what the job involves

However, when prompted to identify elements of their ideal job, a significant proportion of respondents selected criteria that match modern day careers in farming, including access to the latest technology [selected by 28%], flexible working hours [56%], and varied day to day work [55%].

This research comes as the industry faces a significant shortage of skills, and new entrants are desperately needed to maintain growth in the sector. According to a report by the Royal Agricultural Society of England, the industry will need 60,000 new employees by 2020 just to replace retiring farmers.

More promisingly, the research showed that 39% of young people said they would like more information about careers in farming, of which 25% would be interested in short periods of hands on experience.

The Sainsbury’s apprenticeship programme, which is run in partnership with Staffline, gives young people aged between 16 and 23 the chance to work with some of the retailer’s most progressive food suppliers, many of whom use the latest innovations and technology in the sector – from learning the digital infrastructure of glasshouse computer systems to managing crop growth through the use of drones and smart phone apps.

Every 12 weeks the apprentices visit other growers in Sainsbury’s supply chain which means they get access to 44 days of off-the-job training. In between these visits the apprentices will be back at work learning the practical aspects of their chosen career from harvesting; identifying and dealing with pests, diseases and disorders; planting; monitoring moisture and nutrients; pruning and use of state-of-the art equipment and digital tools.

Robert Honeysett, Sainsbury’s Horticultural Manager, said:

“Our research reveals there’s a significant gap between what young people think of farming, and some of the jobs that are available today. We’re passionate in playing our part to support the future of British farming, and help attract young people into the industry.

“A third of those surveyed [31%] assume they need a family connection to break into the sector, which isn’t the case. We hope our apprenticeship programme will help show that there are a number of alternative routes into farming, and we’d encourage school leavers and young professionals to consider it. It’s one of the most dynamic industries in the UK to work in.”

Liam Walker, Apprentice at one of Sainsbury’s tomato suppliers, Cornerways Nursery said:

“I’d never previously considered growing tomatoes as a potential career path but I’ve been very surprised about what this role actually involves. From needing to know how to run a business and market a product, I’ve also been using my digital skills much more than I expected, for example to control the glasshouse through a modern computer system. I think a lot of people my age don’t realise just how varied roles in this sector really are.”

If you are interested in joining the scheme, or you would like to discuss further, please visit the Sainsbury’s webpage or email:

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