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Feeding the nation – the role of social enterprise in training new landworkers

Tom Kenny

In light of the new Defra inquiry into workforce shortages in UK farming, this blog considers the role of land-based social enterprises in training the landworkers of tomorrow.

The Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee recently launched an inquiry into the challenges to the food supply chain from shortages of workers. It is a recognition that the labour market for the UK land-based sector is in crisis, one that can no longer be ignored given the potential for Brexit to reduce the number of foreign workers available. We will shortly be submitting a written response to this inquiry arguing that the government needs to provide more support for land-based training, and that social enterprise can be a key agent for delivering that training. If you have any feedback or input, please get in touch by emailing

We think that public funding and support should be made available for social enterprise led training. Our reasoning is as follows:

  1. The UK land-based labour market is in crisis. Brexit has highlighted the dependence of UK land-based sectors on foreign workers, whilst less and less British people aspire to land-based work.
  2. For our rural economy and food production to be resilient, we need more UK landworkers capable of managing land to meet the environmental and societal needs of 21st Century Britain.
  3. Encouraging a significant amount of new entrants to land-based work will require an intervention from the government. This should include more funding for land-based training as well as more land being made available for new entrants.
  4. Social enterprises have the potential to train a new generation of landworkers, who can counter workforce shortages and usher in new models of land use that work for everyone. Thus they should be supported to access land and train new entrants.

1. A crisis of land-based skills in the UK: One of the contributors at a recent oral evidence session for the inquiry called the loss of foreign workers an ‘existential threat’ to many farming businesses. Another contributor from the Horticultural Trades Association cited figures suggesting over 100,000 workers could be affected. Meanwhile the average age of UK farmers is  58, and land-based work is not seen as aspirational.

2. The need for UK landworkers with new skills: We will need many more UK landworkers to develop a resilient food system, and the landworkers of tomorrow will need different skills. They will need to manage land in a way that benefits the environment – especially if Natural Capital, or equivalent legislation is introduced, land managers will need to understand how their activities impact the environment. They will also need to run businesses with diverse income streams. It is increasingly difficult to run a sustainable business producing commodities alone – successful land-based businesses need to be able to diversify.

3. The role of government: There is a clear public interest in having a resilient food system. Since more trained landworkers are essential to such a system, the government has a role to play in facilitating it. There are currently a number of financial and other barriers to delivering land-based training. Thus the government should provide financial support including direct funding, and incentives to land managers who train new workers or give new entrants access to land.

4. The potential of social enterprise: Our recent report explored the potential of land-based social enterprise to deliver training to a wide range of recipients, highlighting existing good practice and arguing that there is huge space for growth. Social enterprises are particularly good at training new entrants. They often work in the centre of communities, supporting volunteers, or small-scale growers to try their hand at farming, and to learn how to build commercial businesses. The Farm Start programme is a great example of this. The models pursued by social enterprises can be aspirational. Work can include community engagement, environmentalism, diversification, innovation, training, care work and much more. The careers on offer may be easier to sell than traditional farm labouring.

For these reasons we think the government should strongly consider how to support land-based social enterprises to address workforce shortages in land-based sectors. In the coming year we plan to do more research into the potential for social enterprises to deliver more training. If you have any thoughts on this please get in touch.

Update: We’ve now published our response to the inquiry – you can read it here.



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