East Anglia: ‘Hundreds’ of new food and farming apprenticeships set to be created

Students at Easton and Otley College

Students at Easton and Otley College - Credit: Angela Sharpe Photography

A new scheme is set to create hundreds of food and farming apprentice placements over the next two years.

The industry-led apprenticeship programme to boost training opportunities in food and farming and help young people develop careers in agriculture is being launched today.

EDGE Apprenticeships in Food and Farming bring together a number of leading organisations to Educate, Develop, Grow and Employ (EDGE) young people in agriculture across the east of England.

The programme, which will be launched at The Forum in Norwich, is supported by just over £1.4million of investment from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES).

It aims to encourage employers across Suffolk and Norfolk to take on apprentices and equip them with the practical, managerial and technical skills required to develop successful careers in farming and food production.

The programme is industry-led and is a collaborative venture between farmer co-operatives Anglia Farmers and AtlasFram Group, in conjunction with Easton and Otley College, New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), Norfolk County Council and Suffolk County Council.

The application for funding was made in autumn 2012 in response to concerns from Anglia Farmers and AtlasFram Group members about the widening skills and age gaps in the industry. Many members had experienced difficulties finding young people with suitable skills to replace staff who were retiring, leading to an increasingly ageing workforce.

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EDGE Apprenticeships in Food and Farming will offer training across a wide range of careers, both on-farm and in associated agri-science and agri-business roles. Classroom-based training for apprentices will be provided by Easton and Otley College and other appropriate training bodies.

Richard Anscombe, chief executive AtlasFram Group, said: “The agriculture and food sector offers significant and rewarding careers across the board, from hands-on farming to the service sectors. Employment opportunities exist now in the UK in great number, bucking the national trend in other sectors at a time when many youngsters are struggling to find their first job. Opportunities in agriculture and food will only increase as the world population grows and UK agriculture plays a key role in feeding people.

“From a highly-skilled technician operating a £250,000 tractor to a trader seated in a busy grain trading office, salaries commonly exceed the national average and can reach six figures. There is a demand for well trained, skilled people which is where the EDGE project can make a real difference.

“I would not hesitate to encourage a young person to choose the agriculture and food sector as a career and am pleased that AtlasFram Group has listened to the needs of farmers and is encouraging farm apprenticeships by participating in EDGE.”

Director of Land-based Studies at Easton and Otley College Martyn Davey said trying to recruit young people into farming was not a new problem.

“We are delighted to support this initiative as we are passionate about supporting training opportunities in agricultural and land-based industries,” he said.

“It’s important that we work closely with our partners in industry to encourage learners to seriously consider a career in farming and this apprenticeship programme can only help our long-term mission of serving the needs of the agricultural industry across the Eastern region and beyond.”

Councillor Judy Terry, Suffolk County Council Cabinet Member for Economic Development, said: “A thriving agricultural and food sector in Suffolk is essential to the future success of the county’s economy. However, the sector is dependent on young and appropriately skilled people entering the industry.

“Therefore initiatives such as EDGE, which will create better links between employers and training providers and encourage young people to explore the wealth of exciting career opportunities within the sector, get the council’s full support.”

Madge Moore, director of LANTRA, the UK’s Sector Skills Council for land-based and environmental industries, said: “With the need to attract new entrants into agriculture, Lantra welcomes the opportunity to be involved in this exciting project that will promote the business benefits of taking on an apprentice to agricultural and horticultural businesses in the Eastern region.”

Nicola Currie, Country Land and Business Association eastern regional director, said: “Agriculture is a strong industry with a bright future, making it a great career choice. EDGE is just what is needed to grow the skills in the young people who will sustain it through this time of innovation and technological development.”

National Farmers’ Union regional director, Pamela Forbes, said: “Agriculture is a major employer in the East of England, with 50,000 people directly employed within farming and many more jobs supported by the industry, but we face a huge challenge in finding the farmers of tomorrow.

“That’s why we welcome this initiative. We will be giving it our full support, working with the project team and our members to help identify where opportunities for farm apprentices exist.

“We will also continue to promote careers in agriculture through our Farming Delivers campaign. Part of the battle is convincing young people, their parents and teachers that farming is a high-tech and progressive industry that offers real job prospects and career progression.”