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AgriCulture Live Podcast Transcript - Episode 2

AgriCulture Live Episode 2 with guest Mark Scott from Savills
"The Shortage of New Entrants into the Agricultural Sector"

00:00:01 Rebekah

OK. Good morning and welcome to AgriCulture Live. Here we are with Episode 2 with our special guest Mark Scott, Talent and Recruitment Partner of Rural and Projects at Savills. Today we're going to be talking about working in the agricultural sector. If you've got any questions about this, please leave a comment and we'll come to them at the end. So Mark, do you want to introduce yourself? Tell us a bit about you.

00:00:30 Mark

Morning, Rebekah. Thank you. So yes, I’m Mark Scott. I look after the Rural and Projects division recruitment for Savills. Been here just shy of 2 1/2 years now, my background isn't rural at all so I was thrown in the deep end, but the they must have sought saw something about me that that attracted them and I've always been the recruitment since I've been around 18 years old. I have worked in the tech sector, finance sector work, the gaming sector. So, I've worked in various different sectors and saw what good looks like and also see what bad looks like as well. So hopefully, I've come to Savills and been able to draw on both and help influence some of their recruitment with a fresh perspective, rather than just thinking about or always thinking about the same type of recruitment for the rural sector. So really, looking at those different sectors and bringing it hopefully a fresh perspective and new ideas.

00:01:40 Rebekah

Nice. Nice. So what? What do Savills do for people that don't know?

00:01:45 Mark

To simplify it, we do anything to do with land and property globally. OK, I could go on.

00:01:52 Rebekah

Go on, give us a little bit more.

00:01:56 Mark

Well, we have got 40,000 people across the globe in over 700 different locations. We cover commercial sectors, we’re huge in America where we started off as a rural business. I think that's the most important thing. I don't think people necessarily associate Savills as being a rural business or starting off from rural business. But we started off in in the mid 1800s with one person. Wow. Here we are today as a global organisation, 40,000 colleagues worldwide and an array of specialisms within the business.

00:02:38 Rebekah

Thanks for sharing that, Mark. So, what is it that makes Savills, would you say, stand out from their competitors?

00:02:45 Mark

Great question. So drawing on draw drawing upon the fact that we're global organisation it can put a lot of people off, when thinking, Oh my God this is this is huge - I'm just going to be a number but you're really not and what I would say is we've got just over about 100 offices in the UK but specifically for the rural and projects division we've got 35 across Scotland and England. And what I'd say, is that each office has its own unique culture and really it's ran as it is a separate business slightly. Now it has got the core values and in that golden thread, that is Savills. But each office is quite unique and different, which poses, it's, it's amazing for me because I can really sell it in and my colleague Becky as well and the recruitment team, we can really sell each, each culture is different, each team is different. We've got various different disciplines and it's a really sort of multidisciplinary office as well in most of them which is just fantastic. So it's really easy to sell, but actually you have to really speak to the hiring manager and understand the team dynamics, the clients, the role that that is actually on offer because a role in say agriculture in in Sevenoaks is very different to a role in in Perth, in Scotland for instance. So it is very, very different which poses challenges, but also it's, it's absolute opportunities and uniqueness, which is quite special.

00:04:19 Rebekah

So today, we're going to be talking about working in the agricultural sector. So, I think we've got like similar backgrounds. So I'm going to ask the question. I know you've touched on it already, but you know, when you were a wee boy, did you say when I grow up I want to work in agriculture?

00:04:37 Mark

Absolutely not! I didn't as I was growing up I didn't necessarily think that I would be in recruitment either. So being recruitment, I think everyone sort of falls into recruitment. I don't think anyone necessarily goes, you know, comes out of school and goes, right. I want to do recruitment necessarily because it's not widely known, but quite an important part of corporate culture and other things. So agriculture. No. Grew up in suburban Newcastle went to a pretty ordinary school. Didn't think that could ever, ever be in this type of sector because it was just vastly different to what I what I knew. So yes, I thought there was two or three options to me which was to go on to the building sites which my dad actually put me off because he spent 30 years doing that and lots of aches and pains and coughs. He said no, get an office job and do something around people because you're passionate about people and hey presto, I'm here today and actually I fell into recruitment but also fell into agriculture and actually two passions that I never knew I necessarily had. They were unconscious, I think, but then have come out by just pure chance and pure luck.

00:05:57 Rebekah

It’s nuts isn't it? Because like my background, you know, I've not come from a farming family or anything like that, but I fell into this myself because I was working in recruitment and had a client that contacted me in agricultural machinery and said, you know, can you help me recruit someone? And I really enjoyed doing that. And I thought, oh, this is quite a nice sector and found a bit of a specialism in it, which now we're all into and really enjoying it. But it almost felt like a bit of a secret world, you know, when I first came into it, it was like at school, it was never an option, you know, they never, it was just like you just didn't even know it really existed, you know? It's like they say most kids now at school don't even know where food comes from, which is really sad, but because it's not a topic or something that we're educated enough about - that's the reason really, isn't it? Unless you're from that farming background, it's difficult to know what is available in this sector, really. For me, you know, when I first came in it was very much like Oh, if you're not from farming, you know, it's kind of like this old boys club type thing which wasn't very helpful. But as you know, why not have people coming in from other sectors who can add skills, add knowledge, who can bring something extra to help this industry? Because I feel with agriculture, it's very much, we're a little bit behind, in terms of diversity, in terms of like women in the sector, in terms of, you know, it's almost like construction was, where you didn't really have many women in the sector and now it's really taken off. I mean, when I was talking to the guys in the office earlier and I don't think I've ever placed an agricultural engineer who's a female, it’s nuts really.

00:08:03 Mark

Yeah, it absolutely is. And I found that quite early on in in in my time working in the rural sector, agricultural sector and it's not widely publicised outside of the sector or the area where you grew up in necessarily. So it's a big challenge The tech sector had that challenge 10 or 15 years ago and they've overcome that now and there's various different things that you can do. But I think there's one thing in particular is - action and also collaboration. You we’re a big organisation, we’re the biggest rural consultancy in the UK. So we've just got shy of 700 members of staff altogether and so we're huge. So actually we've got an obligation to do something as well, but we want to do it and we should collaborate with our competitors because it's not necessarily about stealing each other's people because that's not going to solve the issue. As people get older and there's nothing coming through at the more junior end, then you know we're all going to end up with not enough people to come in agriculture, come into consultancy, come into engineering, come into the sales part of agriculture. Which bear in mind, at school you thought that agriculture was farming.

00:09:23 Rebekah

That was it wasn’t it! It was just farming!

00:09:27 Mark

You’d associate that farmer with being a male as well, unfortunately, when is vastly different.

00:09:33 Rebekah

Like, if you look at even our job page, we do everything from animal feed, animal health consultancy services, you've got machinery, you've got renewables, you know, the list goes on. But you don't realise that when you're not in it do you? You just think, oh, it's farming. If I tell people that I work in agriculture recruitment, they go, do you recruit farmers? OK. Well, yeah, we do some of that, but there is a lot more to it, you know.

00:10:01 Mark

Yeah, exactly. So there's a huge opportunity here and there's a glimmer of hope by the way, because what we're seeing in being quite large, we can have quite a big influence on the entry level coming into our business and into the sector. So we do a lot with schools, colleges, universities. We can do a lot more, by the way.

00:10:26 Rebekah

Tell us what you do because I think this is a thing that a lot of companies need to get on board with. And I know for our business, next year we'll be looking to do more to help get more people into the industry because at the end of the day, Mark, without the people we're nothing. Are we?

00:10:45 Mark

Absolutely. Well, we're a people business. I always say that, you know and everyone says this, but the people are our product so you know we've got to look after them, we've got to sell them in the right way and we've yeah, it's important and we've got to make sure that we've got a succession plan and that's really important and I think we're lucky in the fact that we've got various different people supporting the business in the central roles like mine. So we've got a big HR team, big recruitment team, big training development team, who can support our people properly but also identify the needs that the business has and actually also hopefully forecast. We've got you know for the rural sector, I would say quite a big research team - the fact that we've got 10 people in that team. So, they're constantly looking at what's next? What's next? What's next? Which is great for us - because we're getting that insight to then go, OK, this is what we need to act upon now. And if we do, actually, hopefully we can plug this gap necessarily in the talent space or for instance BPS, what's next etcetera, etcetera. I'm not going to the technical, by the way, because in no way or means I'm an expert. I can't because I look after too many different areas within the division. But you know again, this is something that I've just been able to learn on the job is that you start to pick these types of things that up and you understand a lot more and you start, you'll be able to have at least a basic level conversation with someone who is in agriculture and know what you're talking about to a certain degree. But drawing back on your point, on what we're doing at entry level stage. So, what we're doing is we're just going out there and going out to every single university we can do. So not just focusing on the agricultural focus ones because there's not enough, unfortunately. Now, they are they are amazing and what they do is fantastic and I want to build upon that relationship and feed new people who haven't got necessarily a clue about agriculture, but they know they want to make a difference in the world.

00:12:59 Mark

I want to feed those people into those areas because they're the specialists, they can teach people what they need, a good foundation to then come into businesses like ours and hit the ground running. So, as many universities, colleges, schools as possible and farm visits which is really important. So, we're starting, we've done a few things with LEAF where we've put on some agricultural days or farm visits for schools and whether that be sponsoring something or actually attending on the day and giving our time to understand what is it like to work in a consultancy for instance. Yeah, it's hard to put something on the table - so when you've got you know the engineering or something where they've got the nice big combines and a toy combine or a bit of engineering, it's hard to sell the consultancy in say, a toy form or some type of material. But actually, what we can say is this, this is how we support and if you're a creative thinker, you can think outside the box and you love working with people, you love working in the countryside, this could be a role for you. Pushing for that really.

00:14:09 Rebekah

It’s really good that you guys are doing that. Part of me wishes that, you know, there was something in schools, you know, like a subject that people could do or something to get people thinking about it earlier on because we have got this ageing farming population now. It's like, we've got to have this succession coming through because it's such an important industry, isn't it?

00:14:32 Mark

Yeah, and I think for me, what really opens my eyes up to things, is obviously working with these people day in, day out. So, you know I'm working with our guys who are giving us constant feedback and you know just listening to the research team, reading their publications and you know we're constantly having updates again about what’s next and how we can support people in the in the right way. But also for me on TV, I think there's some fantastic series out there at the moment that, you know, the Clarkson's farm, for instance. Fletchers Farms amazing, you know, and I know that both come from TV and probably got slightly more money than the average Joe, but it's still a top tip.

00:15:18 Rebekah

It’s helping though, isn't it? It’s definitely helping. Countryfile?

00:15:22 Mark

Yeah, it's depicting the real farmer lifestyle I think, which is yes, it's tough but actually how rewarding at the end of the day, when you when you do get it right and yeah just for me, it really sort of it gives me that motivation. I'm watching it and my bloods pumping, I'm really motivated here to really try and change things for the better and I want to work alongside like minded people to do that and you know again, I've got the platform here of being at the biggest consultancy, to really shape that and I guess all of my colleagues are on board as well, which is amazing, so we're doing things but it definitely takes collaboration across the whole piece and not just one organisation.

00:16:11 Rebekah

We all need to be getting together and doing so much more, don't we really? Definitely. So, what challenges do you face as a business when recruiting would you say, Mark?

00:16:24 Mark

Well, just the sheer volume that we recruit. So, you know, we hire from anywhere between 120 people to around about 160 people in one given year. So, we're constantly recruiting because we're either growing which is amazing in what we are doing but there are some times that you know, people leave us and that's just inevitable. And so because we're such a big organisation, we are recruiting constantly and in various different areas within just different disciplines. And it's tough sometimes because it can be down to location, it can be down to the flexibility, it can be down to pay sometimes, it could be anything. It's literally anything and a lot of people in the rural sector tend to, are going towards the infrastructure, utilities sector as well. So that's drawing some people out and you know, that's fine because it's such a buoyant market and there's a lot of opportunity there. But this is the whole point of actually grouping things together and trying to build up this early talent scheme (which isn't just the only solution by the way), but you've also got to look at a lot of the sort of career returners and 2nd career types of people. So Ex-forces for instance, we're doing a trainee scheme where these people come on board and so this is anyone that's a second career by the way. It doesn't have to be Ex-armed forces or emergency services etcetera. It's everyone who wants a second career in agriculture, rural infrastructure, space to come in and retrain, basically, but slightly higher level than what a graduate would be, Yeah, because obviously they've got some transferable skills.

00:18:16 Rebekah

So, they've got the commercial experience already?

00:18:19 Mark

Yeah well a lot of transferable skills, you know the big thing for us is that they are a people-person, they can they can work with clients, they have got that commercial mindset which is very important and they know how to go and win business as well which is pretty important.

00:18:36 Rebekah

Exactly. It's like I don't know if you can see, but my ethos in our business is we recruit for attitude and we'll train for skills, you know, which is vital because if they've got, if people have got the right attitude, we can teach the rest you know.

00:18:53 Mark

Absolutely, yeah.

00:18:55 Rebekah

So, yes, so what do you think generally in agriculture are the biggest issues going forward in terms of you know, recruitment?

00:19:07 Mark

I'm pleased you said in terms of recruitment there! I think in terms of recruitment the biggest challenge is well for me it's the collaboration piece because whatever we do you know we can do it, but we won't influence every everyone. And I think actually if a lot of the other agricultural consultancies or rural consultancies or utility firms, etcetera all grouped together and it's a force for good, you know, if you want to label it as that, I think that's where we'll see real change because yes, if you can put some money behind it. But actually, it's true action, it's time and it's influence. And I think if we can get that right which everyone wants to do, and doing it in their own way, by the way, it's everyone doing it. But actually doing it in one way and with purpose and with an end result in mind in quite a short time frame will make a huge difference. So, the Leaf programme that we're doing, we've only done it in a small section of the South. Ideally, I want to role that out and really it's not even my idea so it's someone else's idea within the business who is a Surveyor, who went I'm from an agricultural background but actually I want to make a difference, because I can see that it's not sustainable. We're like fantastic! Let's roll with it, let's put this in place. We're doing it already. So, there's something there where you know the coordination piece actually can be done by someone else actually what we need to do is just give up our time and obviously help financially slightly, as well as sponsorship and that's as little as £100/£200 sometimes where it just means that actually you can fund a coach to get the kids from school onto the farm. So it can be as simple as that and that's what we're looking to bring out but actually on a much wider scale and ideally with our competitors because that's where we're going to see a force for good.

00:21:25 Rebekah

So where do you think, (like obviously we've got the school level), you know, we've talked about there's more education that could be done, more trips to farms, you know, that type of thing. But how do you think as an industry, do we attract more non farming people into it? You know when they're already in established careers?

00:21:50 Mark

Great question. Look if I had the chance to be a farmer at some point, I'd absolutely snap someone's hand off! I think the biggest challenge is the financials. How do you get into farming when you're not wealthy. Now, I'm not saying that farmers are wealthy but I think getting into it, there's that real gap and if that can be or at least it can be widely publicised that that's not necessarily the case. You can take a tenancy for instance and just show that you've got the right skill set, the right mindset, the right behaviours and I think also you know farmers are very willing to help people. So again, you know I know this is TV but if you look at the Fletchers farm for instance, you look at Clarkson's farm, neighbouring farmers are wanting to help now and maybe not Clarkson too much! But the Fletchers farm for instance, I think you know that watching that – it definitely inspires you to really think about it and if there's a the right pathway or the right avenue – I think that well it's an absolute possibility for people but it needs to be publicised. So really to shorten that and to sort of be quite concise with this, the marketing to how to get into to farming / being a farmer. Because I know that there would be a lot of people that are wanting to get into that - as kids and as a young lad, I still had a tractor (a toy tractor) that I was playing with and pretended to be a farmer at a certain age and I think a lot of people be like that but actually that sort of disappears between that life and in school life because you think it's impossible. But actually, if you can hit that cusp just right, I think it's an absolute possibility for the majority of people who obviously want to put in a lot of hard work, but a lot of rewards and you know that that hopefully that well-being space of being able to do what you love and be your own boss and working and feeding the nation.

00:24:17 Rebekah

And a lot of people with kids will know it's it is better now because you’ve got things like Tractor Ted and things like that, to help educate the little ones. And there's a lot more farm parks open now than maybe when we were kids and things like that, aren't there? How do you think you know in terms of (obviously we've got farming side), but you know people that like ourselves really, that you know are working in different industry? How do we get them to open up and look at this as you know a potential move across, what do you think we could do?

00:24:58 Mark

Great question. So, you mean us here as recruiters?

00:25:07 Rebekah

Or, well, not even necessarily recruiters. But, you know, so you were saying about how to get people to consider farming, say, but like people who are just commercial people, that are established? How do we get them? That aren't at the farming level but, you know, as salespeople or whatever? How do you think we could, get more of them across? What do you think?

00:25:31 Mark

Well, I think our training scheme is working well now - it's still small scale because like anything we tested out practically but in a quite a safe environment and it and it seems to be working (which is good). I think things like that - where there's an offering, there's a pathway for second careers, is the solution in my mind. If someone comes to me and says actually I've got a better thing - fantastic! But I think something like that where you know you see outside of this sector - the likes of Amazon and Barclays and others where you know they offer these fantastic fast track management schemes. And they work pretty well because you get to Vice-President within five years and you were in the armed forces or you were doing something else and something like that would, would make absolute sense and a real sort of fast track. Technical, sort of. As long as you've got the right sort of behaviours, skill set, motivations to really sort of get into this sector then actually you know within a sort of five year time frame and also being very clear and transparent by the way. I think you've got to have that - to go well this is what you're going to end up with, this is how you're going to get it, but it's going to be tough inbetween, because you've got to start from scratch really, which is daunting to a lot of people, who you know for me with 12 years experience within recruitment to then just go, well, I'm going to be a farmer in five years time. Well how the hell, how the hell do I do that? And you know that that would potentially put a lot of people off! But I do think something like that- a scheme and a pathway where it's very clear you know what the end goal is and being able to know how we get it which is something that I think would work pretty well. And we're doing it very small scale and just within the rural business at the moment like (so rural surveying) because actually it's very, it's very structured and the fact that within 2 1/2 years you’re a chartered surveyor and this is how you do it and this is what you’re paid and this is the training that you get. So it's great, but within agriculture it's slightly different. But we'd love to get to that point where we're offering across the board.

00:28:05 Rebekah

Absolutely. And obviously, you know, getting more women into the sector, making the sector more diverse, how can we, how can you see us doing more of that?

00:28:15 Mark

Yeah you know so there's two stats that I just want to say that what we've been doing and last year our graduate scheme because all of the work that (by the way it's not me going to every single university because I find it would be impossible), we have around about 30 Talent Ambassadors in the business who are placed in nearly all of our different offices who go out to work with local schools, work with the local colleges and universities. So, they do a lot of career fairs, partnering, lots of creative things, actually, to really partner with that the local institutions. And basically, because of that, the end result last year is that we or they hired this year, but the recruitment was last year, we hired 37 grads and 5 apprentices within the business who joined September. 35 of them were from non-rural backgrounds whatsoever.

00:29:19 Rebekah


00:29:20 Mark

That’s over 50% obviously that we're doing that, which to us is huge, absolutely huge and that's where you'll see real change and if that was the sort of common number every single year, well you know of course you're going to get. So really being quite strict with that and opening up opportunities. You know we hired people from the likes of Sheffield Hallum, Nottingham Trent, I’m trying to think of where else? Another degree for instance. Even nothing to do with land necessarily. You know you could do law, economics, something like that but they're coming into the rural sector - which is amazing. So that was last years stats just for grads and apprentices. But actually, over the summer we offer summer placements for school, college leavers and people in their first year of university. So, this year we have 50 work experience altogether, now that comes into placements, one week work experience, four weeks work experience. But out of the 50, there was more female than there were male.

00:30:38 Rebekah


00:30:47 Mark

all majority again non rural backgrounds, what it's like to be in to have a taste of what its like in the rural sector, in a consultancy like ours. Which is quite interesting, because I think when you offer work, so, this is the first year where we've offered work experience on scale and what we've seen is it went from a shift from male just applying for the grad scheme and getting the rules, to actually have a big shift in the females and actually the summer placements - all of them- I think there was 8 female and 4 or 5 male in the sort of summer work experience, who could have then applied for the graduate scheme this year. So, they're at uni, they're in their first, their second year of uni and applying for the Grad scheme that will come into 2024. All of them are fast tracked. All of them were at a level where the business said “we’d take these people on”. So I think having something like that to say you know you've got a one week work experience on offer, then you've got a four week work experience on offer, then you've, then you've got a placement opportunity, a 12 month placement for instance, if you're at university, and then being able to offer a graduate scheme - having that structure is really important because it opens up pathways to everyone really - which is ultimately what we want. So really, we can attract anyone or someone can have some type of work experience in our organisation from the age of 18. I would love to get that even younger, but there's obviously, there's obvious reasons where we can't do that. But I think, you know, having that opportunity right through to 2nd career, by the way. So, you get your 1-week work experience, your 4 week, your years placement, your graduate scheme or your apprenticeship scheme and the trainee pathway - It means that there's an opportunity for anyone to get into this business.

00:32:45 Rebekah

It's great what you guys are doing honestly Mark, you know, in terms of helping to, you know, get more people into the industry in effect, so it's really, really good. I don't think we've had any questions, so we'll leave that. But if you have got any questions, please feel free to message me or Mark and we'll be happy to answer them. It's given us a lot to think about, hasn't it today, Mark?

00:33:12 Mark

Yeah, definitely! I've reflective messy writing, but just reflected on some of the questions that were posted on LinkedIn and you know we are doing a lot, I think the sector's doing a lot. We're all passionate about it. We're all wanting to make a difference. So that is absolutely key and I think just keep on going and build upon that and build further absolutely that's what I'd say to everyone else. But where we're constantly looking at ourselves and making sure that we're at the forefront, looking to try and try and look at new avenues of ways to do things. But if anyone wants to reach out and give us some guidance, I'd be more than happy to discuss.

00:34:01 Rebekah

We're all for new ideas!

00:34:04 Mark

We don’t have all the answers. Yeah, exactly. And collaboration.

00:34:09 Rebekah

Absolutely. Well, I want to thank everyone for obviously watching today and especially thanks to you Mark, for joining me. We really appreciate it. You know, it's all, it's all going to help, definitely, going forward. So, so yeah, if you've got an interesting topic in agriculture and you're watching, that you would like to talk about, please get in contact with me via Agricultural Recruitment Specialists at www.agrirs.com and our next AgriCulture Live will be in the New Year. So, all that's left to say is to wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a very happy New Year. And thank you. And thanks, Mark again.

00:34:54 Mark

No, thank you. Yeah. Merry Christmas, everyone. And yeah, Happy New Year.

00:34:58 Rebekah

Alright, thank you.

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