Arguably the biggest issue currently facing the agricultural industry years is recruitment of staff. An aging work force at all levels and the restrictions on migrant labour coming into the country is going to make this worse over the next few years. This is at a time of change and uncertainty as the Basic Payment Scheme is reduced and the focus of the industry is going to have to realign to the demands of the new Agriculture Bill. The sector should look to attract new young people, not from traditional stereotypes. Individuals are needed to provide freethinking flexibility and dynamism to meet the opportunities and challenges ahead.
From 2023 a new qualification in Agriculture will be available to 16 year olds which has to be hoped will provide a pathway into farming for a new and different type of cohort. T Levels will be available for post GCSE students as an equivalent to three A Levels. The courses will include industrial placements accounting for 20% of the learning time providing significant work experience and practical training. T levels are due to be launched across 11 subject areas beginning in September 2020.
The outline draft for the T level Agricultural, Environmental and Animal Care was published in June 2020 for consultation. This set out core principles across seven occupational specialisms before breaking down into the individual subject areas, which include; crop production, land based engineering and livestock production. The core principles outline important areas for the industry developing cross cutting themes including; sustainability, business management, career development, data use and health and safety while the specialisms build on these through application and introduction of specific teaching and learning topics. An important part of the course will be the employer set project giving students the opportunity to combine core knowledge and skills to develop a piece of work in response to an employer- set brief in a real life situation. My main reservation about the program which was conveyed in the response to the consultation on behalf of the Institute, is the absence of marketing as a core principle. It is of increasing importance that crops and livestock are produced with an understanding of who the customer is and what their requirements are. Previous support systems have allowed the production of commodities with no consideration of their destination or use. This has begun to change but needs to be more explicit in any agricultural teaching course.
The T Level represents a welcome addition to the options for post GCSE learners positioned between the academic A levels and practiced based apprenticeships. The balance between lecture room and work based experience is appropriate and the opportunity to develop soft skills in a working environment excellent. As a course manager of a university agricultural program I welcome diversity in all its forms in any potential student and will continue to do so but the T level would provide a very good foundation to Higher Education or direct employment within the industry.