There’s a lot of talk about us all ‘doing our part’ to further the sustainability agenda, protect our planet’s natural resources and stop some of the worst environmental abuses.
It’s an issue that particularly ignites the consciousness of people born after the early 1980s, so-called Millennials and Generation Z, which form around 30% of the world population.
A Nielson poll set the scene for this when it discovered that 66% of consumers are prepared to pay more for sustainable products. This figure rose to 73% when the respondents were Millennials.
That’s three out of every four, who understand that they need to put their money where their conscience is.
Another, more recent study found that 87% of this demographic grouping expect big companies to address environmental and social issues as a matter of urgency.
Yet, how many millennials - and young people in the generation following them - equate the need to support sustainability, with their lifestyles; or their career paths?
In particular, do they appreciate how many exciting job opportunities there are in sustainable agriculture?
STEM and agriculture
There is rightly a big emphasis on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) qualifications and jobs. Young people are been encouraged to see technology as the solution to many global problems.
This makes it easy to think that ambitions to be part of the sustainability agenda must be directed towards inventing the ‘next big thing’ in automation, smart technology or energy efficiency.
Yes, there are important roles for engineering graduates, IT wizards and top scientists in addressing world food shortages, environmental protection and resource management.
However, there are many agricultural job roles that play a smaller but significant role in meeting global imperatives and in supporting sustainability.
Nor is being part of ‘sustainable agriculture’ confined to furthering organic farming, as some people may imagine.
There are many opportunities to influence such key areas as land use and the production of food and textiles, for instance, to create a more viable future for our planet and its inhabitants.
Looking beyond traditional farming jobs
Setting aside all the myths and misconceptions about jobs in farming, there is an under-appreciation of the way in which technology is shifting modern agricultural perspectives.
Throughout the world, the race is on to find software, devices and systems which can improve crop and animal health and yield, as naturally as possible.
As farming becomes ever more complex – and the population boom puts it under massive pressure – the need for advisors increases too. This includes business services to farms, to improve environmental stewardship, productivity and profitability, but also to improve quality of life for farming families as an investment in the future.
The myriad of job roles in agricultural services – to help farmers practise sustainable agriculture – includes agricultural marketing jobs. These can help associated businesses in this sector to sell their ideas for more sustainable working to farmers, but can also support farms to sell their products and solutions better.
Then, of course, there are the scientific brains to meet the challenges of climate change, find new strains of plants resistant to drought and pests, study soil improvements and to fill agrochemical jobs.
Encouraging young people to play their part could also mean drawing attention away from the emphasis on large agricultural enterprises, and more on micro-level farming operations.
Small-scale, subsistence farming can't be overlooked, and future generations can help by launching or supporting local agricultural ventures using sustainable models as a template.
Long term food security could come from increasing production and availability in local communities. Having more farmers' markets and direct to shop operations also decreases carbon footprints.
If younger generations don’t necessarily want to ‘get their hands dirty’ and take up farming jobs and businesses for themselves, there are ways they can mentor or support local ventures. The passions and unique perspectives of Millennials and Generation Z may prove to be ‘ground-breaking’ if they are directed towards mentoring substance farmers in sustainability and productivity.
How to engage young people in agriculture careers
There is clearly a need to promote this entire sector to schools and colleges, to deflect from the widespread view that farming is at best ‘tough and in the doldrums’.
There are many dynamic and exciting careers on offer for ambitious and bright young people in this sector, and agricultural recruitment needs to focus on fulfilling their needs.
Millennials and Gen Z are more adaptable and perhaps more ‘curious’ than their parents, and this needs to be catered for. They need evidence of opportunities for personal advancement and development.
Of course, any job openings in agriculture that tap into their agility with modern technology will always warrant consideration, even if it's simply the latest devices available to optimise their time and productivity.
It may also help to attract younger applicants to agricultural courses and job openings if the relationship between farming and sustainability is drawn more vividly.
For example, news of droughts, food shortages and resource wastage needs to be followed with solution-focused publicity, including the work being done to provide more food and fibre, more speedily and with less waste
This takes sustainable agriculture well out of the field of ‘organic farming’ and positions it firmly in the realms of food security and a better future for all.
Giving them a clear role in sustainability support
There is strong evidence to suggest the Millennials and their successors are lacking confidence that solutions can be found to address their environmental concerns. This is largely due to lack of policy changes and Governmental action to create widespread solutions.
This means, according to one survey, they tend to be passionate about saving the planet, but limited in their actions to make a difference. The report by the Glass Packaging Institute found: “Millennials are the least likely to take actions that would support those beliefs – the least likely to sort recyclables from trash and the least likely to take steps to save energy.”
Perhaps, by promoting qualifications and agriculture jobs linked to sustainability and environmental protection, employers and trade bodies can equip them with a route to greater involvement.
If you're looking for work in the agricultural sector, Agricultural Recruitment Specialists can help you find the right niche in the UK, Europe and beyond. We can assist in finding which doors are open for you with your specific background and even advice on what you could do to improve your prospects.
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