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Peter Hill

Agri media careers advice at Harper Adams

Published on 15th December 2011

Introducing undergraduates to job opportunities in rural communications was the drive behind the Guild’s first careers briefing held at Harper Adams University College (HAUC). Maria Simpson, careers service manager, supported the event by arrainging the venue and inviting students.

Organised by the Midlands branch in association with HAUC, it allowed students to hear first-hand about a host of possible occupations through the eyes of four practitioners, journalists and PR professionals, drawn from the ranks of the Guild.

“This is the first time we have been to Harper to promote the Guild, but more specifically to bring students’ attention to what can be exciting and fulfilling career opportunities within the farming and rural industries,” said Midlands branch chairman, Julie Mate. “It was encouraging to see so many aspiring rural communicators at the event and it felt good to promote our industry and some of the rewarding career paths it offers.”

Setting the scene, Julie outlined the major categories of employment on offer and also gave a flavour of the core competences that would be desirable to succeed as an effective communicator, including a good understanding of the English language and an inquisitive mind.

Peter Hollinshead, editor of Dairy Farmer, introduced the group to journalism and publishing. He spoke plainly about gathering and sifting news stories, about editorial decisions and advertising, as well as the highs and lows of producing a monthly national publication as it journeys from drawing board to farmers’ doorstep.

Expanding on the work of an in-house PR professional, Jo Biggs, assistant communications manager at EBLEX (English Beef & Lamb Executive), spoke energetically about her very varied and proactive role as part of a small team communicating EBLEX activity to levy payers and other stakeholders. Creative writing, the production of technical literature, website and social media campaigns, events and public affairs management were all interesting and diverging elements of her work.

Jo is from a non-agricultural background and has a BA in French and Business Studies, and previous roles in tourism and with car company clients. She demonstrated that an upbringing or formal education in agriculture is not a fundamental requirement for a career in farming communications.

BGAJ Midlands - HAUC briefing

Members of the Guild careers briefing team (from left): Julie Mate, Midlands chairman; Janine Heath, HAUC; Jo Biggs, EBLEX; Helen Harcombe, Pinstone Communications; and Peter Hollinshead, Dairy Farmer.

Landing a job at Herefordshire-based Pinstone Communications straight from Harper Adams, Helen Harcombe, is living proof of an existing and very direct graduate career path into rural communications.

Studying for a first class honours degree in Agriculture with Marketing, Helen became aware of Pinstone through the college’s annual Careers and Placement Fair held every year in collaboration with rural employers who are looking for graduate employees. She has not looked back.

Getting to grips with agency work in a relatively short time and learning the skills required of an in-house PR professional, Helen is now enjoying varied responsibilities, ranging from managing creative design projects through to handling and supporting PR clients.

Already well known to students at Harper Adams, the college’s Video Journalist and Communications Officer, Janine Heath, rounded off the evening by describing her personal and indirect career path to promoting all things rural and agricultural at the college.

She began by pursuing a career in sound technology, graduating with a BA in Sound Technology at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, but changed direction towards broadcasting, subsequently completing a Masters in Broadcast Journalism at Staffordshire University.

At the same time, she gathered valuable work experience, working one day a week for a year at a press agency, two months at a local newspaper and four months at a local radio station, whilst also undergoing further journalism training - including taking part in the Guild's own John Deere-sponsored training course.

Recruited to her current post at Harper Adams in 2009, Janine is a natural and energetic communicator who has a strong connection and great passion for the farming sector. Armed with relevant writing and technical skills, she clearly enjoys and thrives in her role.

Listing her top likes about her job, she includes writing about a subject she feels passionate about, meeting a wide range of people - ranging from ministers to local farmers, students to professors - and having varied and constantly changing work demands, with no two days the same.

For graduates thinking of pursuing a job in rural communications, Janine’s top tips were:
1: Build a relevant online profile (as employers will Google the applicants they have for jobs)
2: Make sure people can find examples of your work when they search for your name (not just your Facebook page)
3: Read as much as you write; stay up to date with current affairs, both in agriculture and in the national news

To conclude the event, The Guild's Midlands branch secretary, Liz Snaith, provided practical signposting advice to the students on how to find out about positions available in the industry. She also provided further information about the Guild, its role and activities.

Note: In addition to the Careers Fair, Harper Adams provides free job advertising on its website here.

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