Careers in agriculture vary enormously, from hands-on farm jobs to work in agronomy or agricultural banking, and each role requires a unique set of capabilities. Some agricultural roles require scientific qualifications, whilst others may be best suited to those with financial acumen or an aptitude for practical tasks, for example. There are, however, a number of skills and traits that are common to roles across the industry. If your plans for 2019 involve progressing your career in agriculture, or even transitioning to the industry from an existing role elsewhere, here are a few skills we’d recommend developing over the course of the year, and adding to your list of New Year’s resolutions.
The UK agricultural industry is facing a number of challenges in 2019: political, financial and environmental, to name just a few. As a result, it’s important that those working in land and farming are able to adapt to changing circumstances and to develop their business and personal attributes in a way that suits a changing landscape. Working on the business of agriculture requires flexibility; regulatory and funding changes can affect business plans on short notice, and consumer spending habits may change seemingly on a whim. For example, in the UK market an increase in vegetarianism and veganism, with the growing demographic increasingly vocal, is leading some towards shifts in their business focus. At the same time, interest in the industry has arguably never been higher - Brexit has brought with it increased scrutiny in, and awareness of, the sector, and, in some areas, an affection for a traditional lifestyle that, to many, agricultural lifestyles represent. The most successful will be those who seize on these opportunities in 2019 and maximise the benefit to the business or organisation in which they work. For example, for those in countrywear jobs an adaptable approach might lead to the establishment of new markets in a nostalgic environment.
Regardless of the macroeconomic environment, adaptability has always been important for those entering the industry following a period of academic study; knowledge acquired in an educational setting can never fully prepare you for the realities of a job in the industry. If you’re studying at the moment and looking to secure one of the many available agricultural graduate jobs in 2019, focus as much as you can on the practical application of your studies. For example, looking at as many case studies as you can will give you a sense of the varied application of theory across the industry, and ensure that you can adapt to different circumstances once you start work.
Effective communication is critical for almost all rural jobs; the ability to listen, analyse and explain is invaluable in the industry, where relationships are paramount. Leigh Morris, Chief Executive of the National Land Based College, recently explained that in his view "communication skills and customer focus are often overlooked but they are big issues for small businesses." Our view is that businesses of all shapes and sizes can benefit in innumerable ways from enhanced communication skills amongst their employees.
Communicating confidently and clearly enables efficiency in working in teams, whether within your business or outside of it, for example in managing supply chain relationships. Individuals working in service lines, such as those in agricultural education jobs or surveyor jobs in the sector, will know how crucial effective communication can be. Building trust with clients creates a strong foundation for long-term relationships. Similarly, working on site in farm manager jobs or similar requires a strategic approach to communication to get the most out of employees. Communication skills aren’t only useful in leadership roles; managing upwards as well as downwards is a crucial skill when working at entry or graduate level, or in lower levels of management.
As agricultural businesses adapt to a technological age, increased connectivity and higher rates of cross-working are inevitable. Cultivating a strong sense of commercial awareness involves understanding how your business or organisation fits into, and interacts with, the wider environment. Reading around your specific segment and developing an awareness of the wider context enables you to foresee challenges and add value.
"Commercial awareness" is often talked about but little understood. To us, it means understanding how different businesses fit together and how external events and trends impact on your industry, and having an opinion on the changing commercial landscape. It takes time to build, but it's top of many employer's lists as they look for leaders of the future. Developing commercial awareness can be as simple as regularly reading industry news and taking a proactive interest in your company’s customers and suppliers. Those looking to take their knowledge further should consider learning more about the political and economic landscape, via broader reading in journals or business and industry-specific non-fiction.
Technology and data handling skills
Amongst recent advances in the industry are tools and technology which support predictive analytics and broad data analysis. Understanding trends relating to weather events and crop successes can have a huge impact on agricultural businesses. Developing the technical skills and curiosity in new technology will stand applicants in good stead whether at junior or Senior/Director level.
A McKinsey report published in 2016 looked ahead at how advanced analytics and technology is expected to impact the global food chain. Amongst the tools identified as likely to impact the industry are: climate forecasting technology; precision agriculture management, including analysis of water use; industry-specific payment systems and financial services supported by data, in particular with respect to use of insurance to mitigate the impact of weather events; and environmental footprint management, technology to enable consumers to map the life-cycle of their food (in keeping with the sustainability trend that has dominated news in the industry throughout 2018). Although your business may not be impacted by all of the aforementioned technologies, you should look to understand those in the area you work in and around. At a simpler level, locally mapping data within your business, even without the use of sophisticated technologies, is likely to significantly impact your success, personally and as part of your team. Developing skills in IT applications such as Excel and Powerpoint will enable you to map, interpret and analyse information, and present it to your colleagues.
Agricultural Recruitment Specialists are the worldwide leader in headhunting and recruitment for agricultural and farming positions. Take a look at our website today www.agriRS.co.uk to see what farming and agricultural jobs are available within the management sector and progress your career in the right direction. Alternatively, contact our team on 01905 345 155 or email us for more information at info@agriRS.co.uk