Chances are that if you ask most pig businesses what their three top concerns are, the availability of skilled staff will feature pretty frequently, writes Richard Longthorp.
So what can we do about this? Well, the pig industry, via what was BPEX and is now AHDB Pork, has done an awful lot to address the skills issue with a wide range of training programmes available for newcomers and senior managers alike.
We have also developed a new Trailblazer Apprenticeship. But to train people, we first of all need to be able to attract them to our industry.
One key element in helping with this would be the official recognition of agriculture as a STEM industry. STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths and works on the principle that, for most children, learning about STEM subjects at school is a lot more interesting, more fun and more effective when undertaken in a work-related, contextualised way.
Being recognised as a STEM industry not only opens many doors into schools and colleges, but also enhances the image and perception of the industry in the eyes of students, teachers, careers advisers and parents.
Having agriculture recognised as STEM is one of the latest campaigns that I, along with others, am waging – and one I pressed recently when I addressed politicians at an Eggs, Pigs and Poultry APPG breakfast in Parliament. The group agreed to run with it. Not quite as exciting as some of the other campaigning stuff we got up to in the late Nineties and early Noughties(!) but undoubtedly just as important.
And we are making progress, with Defra Secretary Michael Gove repeating the self-same message at this year’s Oxford Farming Conference.
So, if you get any chance to tell MPs, ministers or other influencers what government could do to help make a career in pig farming more attractive, simply tell ’em: “Recognise agriculture as a STEM Industry”.