By Geoffrey Bond, OBE DL, Past President, Newark & Nottinghamshire Agricultural Society
In 2016 I had the privilege of being the President of the Newark & Nottinghamshire Agricultural Society, which in May each year, holds The Nottinghamshire County Show. In preparation for my year as President, I spent time in 2015 looking at the agricultural engineering industry, which was a new world to me, as most of my life has been as a lawyer, businessman and broadcaster.
I realised in attending events such as the Midlands Machinery Show, that there was a great need for more young people to know about careers in agricultural engineering. It is my opinion that many enthusiastic youngsters at school leaving age are simply not aware of agricultural engineering. This means that many capable and enthusiastic young people are lost to other sectors without ever exploring agricultural engineering.
In visiting many schools I realised that there was little information for them about agricultural engineering, and among the things that I have done to improve their knowledge of the industry is to attend School Careers events. This allowed me to talk to both students and parents about the opportunities presented by apprenticeships. Also, to arrange for groups of students to attend major agricultural engineering companies such as John Deere, who very kindly host the students, explaining the nature of the industry and of course showing them major pieces of agricultural farming machinery and how they operate in the new computer-led world.
In order to give young people an opportunity to consider a career in agricultural engineering, I set up a traineeship scheme in the East Midlands, in the counties of Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire. The Scheme gives youngsters time spent, during their school holiday, with an agricultural engineering company. This, I hope, gives them the opportunity to see what great opportunities are presented by the industry.
The summer of 2016 saw a number of young people taking up such placement opportunities. I hope, that this year, we will at least double the number on such courses. Discussions with agricultural engineering companies has shown great support for the scheme.
In addition, on a more formal level, I am also supporting those students already on an agricultural engineering apprenticeship course by encouraging them to win one of our awards. This means that anyone who wins an award, will have a toolkit supplied for them, which is so important for their work. These apprentices, usually on day release at agricultural educational institutions, combine working with study, with the ability to earn money, and not, as in the case of many students at University, building up a debt to be repaid on qualification.
There are of course a number of organisations (such as John Deere and J C Bamford) who run excellent apprenticeship training centres, but my research has found there is still a need for more support for apprentices in agricultural engineering. Also, at a more basic level, to continue telling school students about the great opportunities that agricultural engineering presents.
British farmers make a huge contribution to our economy and work in an increasingly sophisticated technological world. They make use of precision farming techniques with GPS systems, robotics and even drones. The challenge is to deliver this message to many more young people than we currently are doing.
After all, as one writer has said, a modern tractor makes a car look almost basic in comparison!
Geoffrey Bond, OBE DL
Past President, Newark & Nottinghamshire Agricultural Society