Ben Bardsley, Alex Myatt FPJ Live 2019

l-r: Ben Bardsley, Alex Myatt and Fruitnet's Ed Leahy at FPJ Live

Horticulture is a diverse and fast-moving sector, offering young people great career prospects, but it’s not communicating that message to talented school leavers and graduates, according to young growers’ association NextGen Fruit Group.

Grower organisations are conspicuous in their absence at school and university careers fairs, NextGen’s Ben Bardsley and Alex Myatt told FPJ Live delegates, and as a result young people are unaware of the opportunities they offer, and companies are missing out on attracting bright, young talent.

“The horticulture sector needs to get a grip of things and start marketing itself,” said Bardsley, who heads up Kent apple-growing farm Bardsley England. “The head honchos of the big fruit companies need to get together and participate at these careers fairs to get the message across that horticulture is an incredibly exciting industry, and it’s well paid.”

There is a huge range of different jobs on offer at entry level in horticulture, Myatt added, including tech-based roles, computer coding, data analysis, HR, accounting and marketing.

The opportunities to come into the sector as a tech entrepreneur are huge, since technology is now used everywhere – from irrigation systems to packhouses, she said.

NextGen earlier this year pledged to increase its membership and attract more young women to the industry.

Within the last six months it has doubled its membership base via social media, attracting more people from outside the sector, Myatt said. And women make up 30 per cent of members. “We’d love to make it 50:50,” she added. “There are more girls coming into the industry, and there are a lot more opportunities for women now. Farming is not just about being strong and muscular. With all the machinery used now, there are no longer physical barriers to women entering the sector.”

Bardsley added that he recently recruited working mums, offering them jobs that fit in with school hours. “As growers, we shouldn’t be afraid of being flexible employers,” added Ali Capper, executive chair of British Apples & Pears, who was in the audience. “There are a lot of very qualified women who work part time. That’s what I think growers should be focusing on, that we can be flexible employers.”