Farmer Focus: Ag apprenticeship scheme needs a shake-up

We have a recurring problem at LSB, and I’m pretty sure we share it with the rest of the agricultural industry. Three weeks before Christmas the curse struck again – a hand-addressed letter on my desk containing a staff member’s resignation.

Fair enough, you might think, we should all have the freedom to navigate our own path through life, and I fully agree with that.

The thing that troubles me, though, is that this isn’t a 45-year-old who’s been here for decades and has become tired of the same routine, fancies a change or possibly setting up their own business and having a career move.

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No, it’s a 20-year-old government-backed apprentice who joined the firm straight from school aged 16. After three or four years of investment and training they have decided that farming might not be for them.

At LSB we have a long history of investing in young people, but sadly it’s now 11 years since we retained a young apprentice beyond the three-year hurdle. The last four have chosen to move on just as they started to become established within the team.

Should we take it personally, I wonder? It can be hard not to. Perhaps we should just shrug it off with a dismissive comment about “young people these days”, and grumble about how different things were when we were young.

Take me, for example: in my early years I worked on two different farms doing pre-college experience, two more farms during my college diploma, then one more before travelling around the world working on even more. All this variety before I’d turned 21.

That’s a huge contrast to today’s blinkered career path into entry-level agriculture. It’s no wonder these valuable young people are getting disillusioned and are falling out of love with our industry so quickly.

Teenagers still crave variety, excitement and adventure, just as I did in my day.

Young people haven’t changed, it’s the system that’s changed, and for the worse. It’s failing students and the agricultural industry that desperately needs them.

A serious overhaul of the current apprenticeship scheme is required – a generation has already been lost. So, come on, Department for Education, your scheme is not fit for purpose.

Rob McGregor manages an outdoor pig operation in north Norfolk. See his biography.