A YOUNG farmer has encouraged school pupils to consider a career in agriculture after new figures revealed an alarming lack of apprentices in the sector.
According to Stats Wales, only 1% of the total number of apprenticeships in Wales over the last two years have been in agriculture, despite farming accounting for up to 4% of employment in the country.
Owen Rhys Jones is bucking the trend and signed up for an apprenticeship with Coleg Cambria, a programme that allows him to blend experience with learning and prepare for a future in land-based industry.
Owen, from Bala, is about to complete his first year at the Denbighshire site, which he attends one day a week for workshops and practical sessions.
The 17 year-old balances his studies with a job on his uncle Gerald’s Ceredigion farm, and plans to himself one day run his own acreage, though he admits Cambria has opened his eyes to alternative opportunities.
“Farming is all I’ve ever known, I grew up on my grandad’s farm and have always enjoyed working on land and with the animals,” said Owen, a former pupil at Ysgol-y-Berwyn, Bala.
“When I left school I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, I knew I wanted to work in agriculture and joined my uncle on his farm, which is when my mum encouraged me to do an apprenticeship, to give me something to fall back on.
“I started in September and am absolutely loving it, there’s a good mix of practical assessments and written assignments, it’s flexible and the facilities here are incredible.”
With more than 500 cows in the herd at Ceredigion on around 250 acres of land, Owen is already part of a huge operation, but he has big plans for the years ahead.
“I’m still figuring out what I want to do in the future as there as so many opportunities, more than I imagined, and all sorts of things you can do,” he said.
“I think I would like to become a herdsman and have my own farm on day; I have lots of ideas and I enjoy working with my uncle and gaining experience and advice from him.”
Owen added: “I am hoping to do another year at Cambria and would certainly urge others to join the college, it’s a warm and welcoming environment and I’ve learnt so much.
“People stereotype farmers as walking around in mud all day but there is so much more to the world of agriculture, and I’m certainly finding that out here.”
The Stats Wales figures revealed just 325 of the 31,360 apprenticeships across the country in 2017/18 were in agriculture.
This is despite 85% of the land area of Wales being utilised for agriculture and the sector accounting for a total GVA (Gross Value Added) of 0.59%, more than the UK average.
Kate Muddiman, Manager for Work-Based Learning in the Land-Based Sector at Coleg Cambria, revealed the college is running agriculture qualifications for both new apprentices and current employees, in a bid to help combat the issue.
“Apprenticeships are available for anyone in employment over the age of 16, which means people who already working in the agricultural industry can also enter to develop their skills and knowledge,” she said.
“This is a great opportunity to develop the skillset in the industry and help people in Wales find a new career.”
Rebeca Shakespeare-Fry, a Demonstrator and Instructor in Agriculture at Coleg Cambria Llysfasi, added: “Whether you have been around farming or not there are a multitude of roles available in agriculture and the apprenticeship programme is the perfect way to develop your skills and education while earning a wage.”