How can the land-based sector become a dream career destination for young people in England?

Raising awareness of opportunities in sectors from livestock production to ornamental horticulture and closing the land-based skills gap.

09 March 2023

Since 2013 it has been compulsory for young people to stay in some form of education or training until they are 18, leaving 16-year-olds with a big decision once they finish their GCSEs. In reality, these choices are often set even earlier, with different GCSE subjects opening and closing doors to certain later options.  

While there are some students who are well-suited to this progression, 43% of the young people surveyed for the recent City & Guilds Misspent Youth report did not believe that their education had given them the skills they needed to get the job they want. The focus on A Levels and university also means that many learners feel unsupported and unfulfilled. 

This was reflected in a general disillusionment with the world of work with 30% of those we spoke to feeling they would never reach their career ambitions, and nearly 10% going even further by declaring they never intend to start working.  

To address this, it’s key that employers, industry bodies and educators work together to raise awareness of various career paths that young people can work towards. 

Showcasing the possibilities for land-based careers

The land-based sector has been functioning with an ageing workforce. As redundancies continue to occur and Brexit impacts on the number of casual workers available, the labour shortfall is becoming more pronounced with one result being the current farming crisis.  

The combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit and people moving out of working in livestock or crop production has led to both a skills shortage and a people shortage happening in the sector.

Retrofit news sub imageCharlie Nicklin of IAgrE has seen this first hand “Traditionally those that have gone into land-based engineering (LBE) have either come from agricultural backgrounds or have been heavily influenced by someone from that background e.g. by spending time of families or friends’ farms. We cannot rely on this as a prompt for young people to gain this knowledge/interest in the future as in many cases farms have got larger and more inaccessible.”

In order to survive, the whole land-based sector will need a wide range of young people to commit their futures to the industry and opening the eyes of younger people to the wealth of career paths available to them needs to be a priority moving forward.  

BIGGA, the British golf greenkeepers association, has recently dedicated more of its resources to combatting this issue, launching the First Green initiative in the UK. First Green brings STEM lessons to golf courses, introducing children to greenkeeping at an age where they would not normally be aware of it. 

Aran Harris, an Arborist for Down To Earth Trees spoke about the challenge of both attracting young people to a sector like arboriculture and preparing them for a role in it: “This is one of the fundamental issues of the education system, it is set up to fuel the “non labour” industries, which makes the labour industries like ours an afterthought. We all know that arboriculture and forestry is predominantly a biology and physics subject at its core, yet most students seem to not know what arboriculture is.” 

Developing skills with a new land-based T Level

T Levels are a new set of two-year technical programmes combining studying with a 45-day industry placement which are now one of the three possible post-GCSE pathways along with A Levels and apprenticeships. Unlike apprenticeships which take place primarily in the workplace and A Levels which don’t include any work placement time, T Levels are designed for learners who don’t want to spend the majority of their time in the workplace but who want to gain experience in the sector they plan to spend their careers in learn more about T Levels

From September 2023, a new Agriculture, Land Management and Production T Level will be available for learners, followed by an Animal Care and Management T Level that will begin in 2024. Both have been designed with the help of employers to give young people the skills and knowledge they’ll need to embark on their career journey, introducing a new world of opportunities that might previously not have been available to them. 

Once learners have chosen between the Agriculture, Land Management and Production pathway and the Animal Care and Management pathway they then select their Occupational Specialism from a wide selection ranging from Land-based Engineering to Floristry. This format provides the knowledge and skills to create tomorrow’s historical gardeners, sports turf managers and tractor engineers. 

Retrofit news sub imageThere are hundreds of land-based careers that the average teenager probably hasn’t considered that the right T Level pathway could introduce them to. Choosing the Trees and Woodland Management specialism might put a learner on course to become a Tree Surgeon, working with The Forestry Commission. Picking the Floristry pathway could provide the knowledge and experience needed to start a career building floral arches for parties and weddings. 

Giving employers a chance to shape the industry

This September, the Royal Horticultural Society will begin offering T Level industry placements as part of their New Shoots initiative which aims to attract a younger, more diverse workforce to horticulture. This is a great example of how T Levels can introduce the wide range of careers available to young people who might previously not felt it was for them. 

For learners, the industry placement is a chance to put what they are learning in the classroom into practice and prepare themselves for their future careers. For employers, this is the perfect opportunity to discover and shape potential future employees.  

T Levels have more mandatory content than other qualifications, providing real breadth of knowledge but requiring more dedicated training from employers.  

Catherine Chinn of Cobrey Farms shares the value of this, explaining: “Having a wider knowledge base does open opportunities, it will allow young people to showcase their skills and develop knowledge which is technical and practical and will allow progression to jobs or further education.” 

An industry placement provides an opportunity for you to mould the perfect specialist in an industry dominated by micro businesses.  

With other qualifications at this level including numerous NVQs, BTECs and technical qualifications now being defunded by the government in anticipation of full T Level roll out, T Levels will inevitably be a key option for 16-19 education.  

Find out how to be part of the change and help build the workforce of the future: 

Find out more about how Employers can get involved in T Levels