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What did we hear at the Cirencester QT event on “how to get a job in agriculture and food”?

Date Published: 21/11/2022

Some 50 students from the Royal Agricultural University at Cirencester attended a “Question Time” type event with the theme of “how to get a job in agriculture and food”. This was the first of a series of events being held on campus during a 5 day long “careers week”.  It was organised in conjunction with the IAGRM as part of our ongoing outreach programme to encourage young people towards a career in the agricultural and food sector.

On this occasion, an expert panel under the moderation of John Giles included:

  •  Rebeca Lewis from the Agri Epi Centre in Shropshire
  • Will Gemmill, Senior Partner in CERES Rural
  •  Amelia Bailey from MDS Ltd
  •  George Mallender from More People

Once we got going, the questions from the students (all excellent by the way) came thick and fast and the panel threw themselves in the spirit of the occasion by answering in an open and honest manner. Among the points made by them during this session which last for some 80 minutes, were as follows:

  • Having a non-agricultural background is not necessarily a disadvantage in pursuing a career in farming and food. In fact in these days of agriculture embracing a whole range of forces for change, this could actually be an advantage! It was interesting that while several of the panel had formally studied agriculture and food, none came from a direct farming background themselves
  • It’s OK at 21 not to be totally sure what you want to do. This can take time to find out and looking at just a starting salary, while important, is not the be all and end all - it’s what you can do in the next 3 – 5 years and beyond that matters
  • A good degree. is all but essential. these days, but on top of this, there are a whole range of other attributes employers are looking for – not least, these include a genuine passion for the discipline and good interpersonal skills. Personality can outweigh a good degree in many cases
  • Learn to drive as soon as you can, in order to maximize your ability to take advantage of opportunities and be prepared “to have a go” even if this takes you outside your comfort zone
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes – we all make them and a good employer will give you the support, help and training you need to do a job and do it well
  • There are probably a wider range of opportunities in agriculture and food than ever before. These might cover areas such as marketing/business development, project management, CSR, sustainability, IT, finance and internal company governance, HR, training, PR, and legal work - as well as more conventional livestock/crop-based jobs
  • There are not enough good graduates to go round at the moment. All of the panel agreed on this point. So while students need to sell themselves to potential employers, they should also be asking questions about what the company will offer them in terms of career opportunities, career progression and training/CPD etc
  • Get the balance right between being proactive, confident and down to earth right. Be prepared to ask questions back at any interview, turn up on time (this sounds obvious but you might be surprised how often this doesn’t happen), look the part and find out as much as you can about the company as you can beforehand

 This event could have gone on for much longer – always a good sign. Many thanks to the panel for their time and support to the afternoon and to the students for joining us. 

As Phil Hudson, Head of Faculty at Cirencester said at the start of the session, “this might be the most important hour or so of your 3 years here at Cirencester and so ask the people on the panel anything you want - that’s why they are here”. Fair to say, this is what happened!

And maybe the quote of the afternoon from Amelia, from the great Nelson Mandela: “may your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” This is probably the first time we have had a Nelson Mandela quote at an IAGRM event - but wow – never a truer word spoken!


John is a Divisional Director with Promar International, the consulting arm of Genus plc and serves on the National Council of the IAGRM. He is also a Visiting Lecturer at the RAU.