The focus of this debate is expected to be on the guidance and advice provided to young people and their parents, to encourage careers in food and farming.

This briefing mostly focuses on England although some of the data used is UK-wide.

Number of people employed in the food and farming industries

In 2015 3.85 million people were employed in the food sector in the United Kingdom, 13.6 of the total workforce in employment (source – Defra, Agriculture in the United Kingdom 2015, 26 May 2016, p97).

As displayed in the chart below, the number employed in this sector has been gradually increasing since 2011 (by 319,000 since 2011, 9%), although the percentage of the total workforce employed in the sector has only increased by 0.2% points over the same period.

The majority of the people working in the food sector are employed in either food retailing or non-residential catering. In 2015, these two areas employed 72% of those working in the food sector with 30% working in food retailing (30%) and 42% working in non-residential catering. A further 11% work in agriculture, 10% in food manufacturing and the remaining 6% in food wholesale.

Since 2011, there has been the largest increase in the number of people working in non-residential catering (232,000, 17%), and the smallest in agriculture (5,000, 1%).

Promotion of employment opportunities in farming and food in schools and colleges in England

Since September 2013, local authority maintained schools have been under a duty to provide impartial careers guidance to pupils from years 8 to 13 (ages 12-18). Many academies and free schools are subject to the duties relating to careers guidance through their funding agreements. Academies without the requirement are encouraged to follow the guidance as a statement of good practice.

The Department for Education has published statutory guidance (most recently updated in April 2017) for maintained schools on their duties in this area.

This does not provide detailed guidance on particular industries, but does make clear that schools must encourage students to consider a broad and ambitious range of careers. In doing so, they must avoid stereotyping in terms of what information they provide to students based on their characteristics.

All further education (FE) colleges and sixth form colleges have been required to secure access to independent careers guidance from September 2013.  This requirement is part of FE college and sixth form college funding agreements.

The Department for Education has published guidance for FE and sixth form colleges to draw on in fulfilling this duty.

Research on knowledge of farming and food careers among young people

survey carried out in 2011 by Childwise on behalf of the Careers in Agriculture campaign examined secondary pupils’ attitudes to food and farming careers. Key findings included:

  • Agriculture “figures low” on the list of careers that secondary-age pupils might consider, although career areas with links with agriculture had slightly wider appeal. (p11)
  • Pupils surveyed felt they knew “relatively little about agriculture, in absolute terms and compared with other industries”. (p12)
  • On balance, teachers and careers advisers felt that they knew less about careers in agriculture, compared to careers in other areas.

A research report commissioned by the Countryside Classroom Consortium, and published in 2016 found that as well as recognising these careers required dedication, and were rewarding jobs, careers advisers often linked farming with:

low pay and low status, and associated it with demanding physical work. Few considered it linked to opportunities or innovation, and it seems the stereotype of the ploughman is far more strongly rooted than that of selective crop breeding, aquaculture or farm management via a smartphone. (p7)

In terms of more general understanding in schools about food, farming and agriculture, there report said there was “much to be positive about”; teachers tended to view related subjects favourably, “with an overwhelming number both aware of and motivated to incorporate the subjects of food, farming and the natural environment in to their teaching practice, especially at primary level and within special schools”. (p23)

Organisations working with young people to promote careers in farming and food

The cross-industry initiative, Bright Crop, promotes careers in food and farming to young people. It sends ambassadors into schools, and runs a number of other programmes in this area.

 The charity, Farming and Countryside Education (FACE) provides training and curriculum materials to schools; one if its aims is to “introduce pupils to rural career opportunities and the world of work.”

Number of apprenticeship starts in the food and farming industries (England)

There were 7,160 starts in apprenticeships in food, farming and agri-tech in 2015-16. The Government has committed to trebling the number of apprenticeships in this sector (source – PQ HL6458, 30 March 2017).

There are two apprenticeship programmes that are clearly linked to the food sector, while others have partial links to the sector. These are the apprenticeships in agriculture and apprenticeships in food manufacturing.

In the 2015/16 academic year there were 1,200 starts in the agriculture apprenticeship, with 570 further starts in the first quarter of the 2016/17 academic year (source: FE data libary: apprenticeships).

For the food manufacturing apprenticeships, there were 3,500 starts in 2015/16, with 670 further starts in the first quarter of 2016/17.

The Government is expecting the number of apprenticeships to increase after the introduction of the Apprenticeships Levy in April 2017 (source: PQ 68361 17 March 2017).

Press material



  • Speech by Environment Secretary, Andrea Leadsom MP, to National Farmers’ Union conference, 21 February 2017.
  • Speech by then Environment Secretary, Liz Truss MP, to National Farmers’ Union annual conference, 23 February 2016.


Parliamentary material

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