STILL POTENTIAL FORCAREERS
Encouraging young people
into a struggling dairy
industry is difficult, but
their commitment now is
likely to be rewarded once
the industry has restructured.
Jeremy Hunt reports
DESPITE the problems facing the dairy industry, those involved in education and training say there is still a wide range of valuable career opportunities across the entire spectrum of the milk sector.
But present difficulties may result in a prolonged reluctance among young people to follow a career in dairying. This will create a severe shortage of skilled staff to cope with the anticipated increase in demand as individual dairy farms expand and herd numbers increase.
"I believe we are going to see a big demand for qualified and experienced staff across the industry and particularly on dairy farms where major re-structuring is already underway," says Myerscough College lecturer Allan Nickson.
He says there is already a shortage of skilled staff. "There are more job opportunities for students completing their courses than there are students to fill those vacancies, particularly in dairying.
"The skilled stockperson is in short supply. Employers have never been more aware of the value of a skilled workforce."
Full and part timers
Myerscough College, based near Preston, Lancs, will have around 1200 full-time and 3000 part-time students on its books this year, studying a large range of full and part-time courses. But, like many other colleges in traditional dairying regions, the number of students starting National Diploma courses is lower than the current demand from the industry.
"The current shortage of skilled farm staff looks likely to continue. The number of requests we are receiving from farmers offering a one-year placement as part of the three-year National Diploma course is greater than the number of students available," adds Mr Nickson.
He believes that as margins become tighter and profitability becomes directly linked to standards of management – not only of stock, but also of the business – the need for highly trained staff will inevitably increase.
"As dairy farmers leave the industry those that remain will get larger. Tenants farms will be amalgamated and herd size will increase. While we are seeing inevitable redundancies taking place on dairy farms at the moment, many of the milk producers determined to carry on will be facing much bigger enterprises.
"It isnt just a case of more cows, more labour; the benefits of employing highly trained staff to manage large herds will be recognised and regarded as being crucial to the overall profitability of the unit."
What is now beginning to concern colleges is the influence of some farming parents who are advising their children to seek alternative careers.
"The industry has to look forward. This is a time of major change, but there are going to be excellent career opportunities for qualified staff in the future. I honestly believe a lot of young people who have a knee-jerk reaction and turn away from farming will regret it. Better to start training now in readiness to meet the new challenges of the industry in future."
The bigger herds of the future present a tremendous chance for young people to progress into posts offering greater managerial responsibility of the business with the ethos and financial rewards that go with it.
And attractive job packages will not be limited to the UK. The US and New Zealand are also facing a shortage of skilled staff and are actively trawling the UK in an effort to entice qualified young agriculturists into well-paid and responsible positions.
"There is a lot of stress and deep concern on dairy farms at the moment and the rationalisation that is underway is happening quickly.
"While it is undoubtedly going to be difficult for young people to start farming on their own account, there are going to be opportunities for skilled staff running the larger units which will emerge from the re-structuring of our industry.
"Business management and marketing skills are now an integral part of agricultural courses because they are skills that employers will be looking for along with a high level of technical expertise."
Myerscough College is one of many offering a full range of agriculture courses from NVQ levels 1-4 through to the certificate and diploma courses. But it also offers a Higher National Diploma in Agriculture, with a option to specialise in dairy herd management. There is also a BSc (Hons) in Agriculture with the option to specialise in livestock technology. *
• Big future demand.
• Current shortage of skills.
• Opportunities here and abroad.
The benefits of employing highly trained staff will be crucial to
the profit of dairy units,
says Allan Nickson.
Jonathan Brown is 20-years-old and though hes worked on a Lancs dairy farm since he was 16 he has been determined to complete a six-year part-time training programme through Myerscough College.
"The dairy industry is going through a hard time, but I think thats even more reason to get a qualification and to have the level of skill that will be required by employers in the future," says Mr Brown.
He works at Heaton Hall Farm, Heaton-with-Oxcliffe, near Morecambe, helping to run the Wannop familys 200-cow dairy herd.
"I have an uncle who farms, but my parents are not farmers. I dont know whether Ill ever achieve my goal to farm on my own account. But I believe there will still be plenty of opportunities for experienced and qualified staff.
"I would be more concerned about my future if I hadnt made the decision to get a qualification. I think employers will turn increasingly to staff who can offer them a high degree of expertise."
There will be opportunities for experienced and qualified dairy farm staff in the future, says Myerscough student Jonathan Brown.