Some descriptionAn excellent CIM FDA event was held at the Royal Agricultural University on 15 Feb with c. 50/60 students posing questions to a panel made up of Tom Windett of HSBC, my own colleague, Tryphena James, from Promar International, Monisha Singh from the AHDB, Richard Cooksley of the Institute of Agricultural Management and then Phil Hudson, a lecturer in supply chain management from the RAU itself.

This was one of a series of events held by the FDA Group of the CIM at Cirencester over the last 14/15 years.

The session went on for almost an hour and a half. It seemed to me, that as chair for the evening, it could have gone on a lot longer, but as the saying goes – we all have homes to go to, eventually! Once the evening got going, the questions started coming in thick and fast. It wouldn’t be possible to give a synopsis of every single question and all the answers given by our but a few of the recurring themes might be summarised as being:

  • With the changes that UK agriculture and food is likely to see in the future, post BREXIT, this is a really good time to be entering the agricultural and food sector, as new opportunities and challenges will abound in the next 5 – 10 years.
  • New entrants need to keep an open mind as to what sort of career they develop and need to manage their own personal expectations. Traditional farm management skills will need to be added to in areas such as IT, environment, climate change, natural capital, data analysis and the use of technology in the supply chain.
  • There will be just as many opportunities in the processing and distribution sector, if not more, as there will be in farming per se. Understanding or having at least some appreciation of international ag and food markets will be increasingly important, especially in emerging economies.
  • The panel encouraged the students to “have a go” and not be afraid to try new things and learn new skills and getting some overseas experience can be invaluable.
  • Look if possible to get experience away from the family farm before going back to it – maybe even outside agriculture and food.... and being able to speak a second language is not critical,  but does no harm... !
  • There is often no fixed one route to building a career  - maybe in any sector -  but taking the opportunities that will come your way in time will be key. There are some generic skills that will be important whatever job you end up doing – the most important of these will probably be your own interpersonal skills.
  • It is important to look a the HR function in any potential employer – and ask about opportunities for likely career progression over a 5 year period.
  • Graduate schemes can be difficult to get on but can be invaluable in gaining a wide range of early experience.
  • Embrace the full student experience, but make sure you do the best you can academically too.
  • Learn to network as much as you can with whoever you can – you can never have too many contacts ! The RAU has a powerful alumni and the reputation of the organisation around the world can be a big help in finding employment – use it!

We hope that the session was useful to the students as they begin to go about the process of finding employment. It seems to me, that now more than ever, we need every bright person we can find to come in to the agri food industry. One thing that was not new to me, but maybe I re learnt myself, was that places such as the RAU (and from other similar events with students at Reading and Harper etc) are packed full of clever, intelligent, enthusiastic and engaged young people. We will need them all in the future. And that is a huge cause for optimism, as we enter the most challenging period we have seen in agriculture and food for a generation – if not longer. All in all – a good night I like to think: an excellent panel that was willing to answer any question thrown at them in an open and honest way, a room full of students all looking to ask these questions – and errrr, even a chair for the evening who seemed to know what he was doing too! What more could you want? As another saying goes: we will be back again (to do the same sort of event) next year!

John Giles, Divisional Director, Agri food, Promar International
President of the FDA of the CIM Group