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Could apprenticeships solve UK farming’s labour challenges?

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Lantra is a skills charity, committed to supporting workforce development in the environmental and land-based sector by providing comprehensive careers information, robust industry intelligence, and nationally recognised training and qualifications.

Lantra, the largest provider of end-point assessments for apprenticeships in the agriculture sectorv has carried out a new survey of employers. Reporter Debbie James examines the results.

The skills shortage on UK farms is real with many farms across all sectors struggling to recruit and retain staff.

A new survey of 555 farmers and growers reveals that 50% anticipate a requirement to hire new employees in the foreseeable future.

The survey, carried out by Farmers Weekly on behalf of Lantra involved owner occupiers, tenants, farm managers and others.

It shows that 24% need to hire staff now or in the next six months and a further 26% expect to be recruiting in six to 12 months.

Fifty three per cent are confident that those jobs would be suitable for an apprentice.

For more than half of respondents, apprenticeships are considered a key route to filling vacancies.

Fifty three percent stated that they would use an apprentice in the future to bring in a new member of staff while 18% would use this option to train and upskill an existing member of staff.

Benefits to employers

They saw multiple benefits from apprenticeships, from providing skilled workers in the business and increasing staff loyalty and retention to bringing new thinking and ideas to their enterprise.

For the apprentice, this route into employment is an opportunity to learn while they earn.


Lantra Chief Executive Marcus Potter said the survey results were very encouraging.

“The incredible response to Lantra’s survey shows a strong appetite from farm employers for apprenticeships,’’ says Mr Potter.

Lantra works with over 700 employers to enable apprentices to achieve the final stage of their apprenticeship.

Benefits to apprentice

An apprenticeship is a genuine job with an accompanying assessment and skills development programme.

It is a partnership between an employer, training provider and the apprentice, open to people who are 16 and over and want to combine on-the-job training with studying.

Individuals can gain valuable skills and knowledge in a specific job role, in a real work environment.

The apprentice gets the benefits of being employed in a job, but typically does one day a week or a block release at college to top up their learning.

The farms involved in the survey ranged in scale from under 20 hectares (ha) to more than 500ha, and covered all farming enterprises.

Valued qualities

The research provides an insight into the qualities farm employers value in recruits.

Reliability is seen as the key attribute with good timekeeping and initiative highly valued too.

Twenty one per cent listed ‘operator tickets’ such as tractor driving as important and 22% previous farming experience.

Only 12% thought that it was important that staff came from a farming background, reflecting the broadening appeal of working in agriculture to people from all walks of life.



Mr Potter said the insights gained through the research with Farmers Weekly provides “clear evidence of need’’ for apprenticeships and identifies the barriers that employers find problematic.

Among those flagged up in the survey are concerns about any extra supervision that an apprentice may require, the availability of local training facilities and financial constraints; for some, there is a perception that very few apprenticeships are available.

The results also show that employers need help with navigating the minefield of information on apprenticeships.

They demonstrate a requirement for clear and useful information on how the funding works, what is involved, how apprenticeships work and where to find an apprentice.

The burden of bureaucracy is also likely to be deterring farm employers from engaging with apprenticeships therefore some form of “handholding’’ through the process may help employers better understand their obligations and responsibilities when supporting an apprentice.

How Lantra can help

Mr Potter said Lantra would use the survey findings to expand its services and develop pilot programmes that help farm businesses find the right people, and train and support them in the right way.

This, he said, would allow apprenticeships and alternative development programmes “to deliver the new talent that farming needs’’. 

“This is an ambitious step for Lantra, we are grateful to everyone who participated in the survey,’’ said Mr Potter.

“Going forward we will be testing our ideas with the employers who have volunteered to be part of focus groups, to ensure we are on the right track.’’

As a non-for-profit organisation, Lantra is committed to growing skills in the land-based and environment sector, providing careers information, training and qualifications. 

With a 30-year track record in agricultural skills and training, the organisation is keen to support farm businesses through the transition.

Earlier this year Lantra launched a new careers information resource, showcasing the exciting range of opportunities in the farming and allied industries.

This resource signposts to relevant apprenticeships and training, with a view to bringing new entrants on board.

Next steps

As a next step after the survey, Lantra will engage with the 118 respondents who expressed an interest in taking part in focus groups to explore some of the barriers and potential solutions in more depth.

These will take place in early October, followed by a Lantra webinar for a higher number of people to attend later that month. These individuals will be contacted directly by Lantra.

At the Oxford Farming Conference in January 2023, Lantra will release a report, revealing its plans for 2024 onwards to attract new entrants through apprenticeships and alternative programmes.