Food and Farming: Employment Opportunities — [Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:04 pm on 25th April 2017.

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Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:04 pm, 25th April 2017

My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives also made that important point, which I intend to cover later in my contribution.

The Institute for Apprenticeships began work on new apprenticeships this month and will in time oversee the development of both T-levels and apprenticeships, helping to drive up standards and ensure quality. I am delighted that two members of the board, Dame Fiona Kendrick of Nestlé and Paul Cadman from Walter Smith Fine Foods, bring expert knowledge of the food sector.

Finally, it is important to recognise that we must have continuous career progression once people are in the industry. The Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board runs a series of activities to boost farm competitiveness and sustainability, including farmer-to-farmer learning through business improvement groups and demonstration farms, so that there can be a sharing of expertise through open meetings, digital tools and knowledge exchange publications. Of course, there will be international benchmarking to learn from the experiences of other countries.

The Landex colleges last year came together to launch a new national college in agriculture, to thread together some of the activities that all of the Landex colleges are engaged in, and to try to secure the progression of more people towards level 3 qualifications, again with the aim of continuous professional career development.

My hon. Friend the Member for St Ives mentioned the image of the industry and the work being done to encourage more young people to go into it. Clearly, there are opportunities in the food, farming and fisheries sector, so we should encourage more young people to explore the sector when they think about their future. Overall, we currently have the highest employment rate—74.6%—since comparable records began, and youth unemployment has been falling, but it remains important to ensure that young people are able to make a smooth transition into the labour market, and that they consider the full range of options available as they prepare to launch their careers.

Careers in food and farming are too frequently perceived as low-paid, low-skilled and lacking in career progression opportunities. We need to challenge some of the outdated myths and champion the great careers that the sector offers. Across the country, engineers, scientists and technicians are at the cutting edge of innovation in agri-tech and food production. Industry-supported organisations such as Bright Crop, which my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives mentioned, the IGD and the National Skills Academy for Food & Drink are working to tackle misconceptions and increase awareness of careers in the sector through initiatives such as Tasty Careers and Feeding Britain’s Future, which is run by IGD, and through initiatives such as “The World is Your Oyster”, a campaign run by Seafish. All of those projects highlight the varied career paths that the seafood industry has to offer and the unique opportunities it can provide.

We are highlighting some of the superb apprentices already working in the industry, including by featuring them in the Government’s “Get In Go Far” careers campaign. In February this year, the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs hosted a roundtable, bringing together a range of organisations to start a dialogue about what more industry and the Government can do together to champion the fantastic employment opportunities available in the food and farming sector. The roundtable heard directly from apprentices working in two leading food businesses—Nestlé and Mondelez—about their experiences in the sector. The best people to sell the sector are often the young people who are starting out on their own careers in the industry.