The importance of education and upskilling should never be underestimated

Jenna Ross

My name is Jenna Ross and I work for the UK AgriTech centre, Crop Health and Protection (CHAP), leading on international development - however, many may know me for my peculiar research interests in molluscs (slugs and snails).

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of joining the Oxford Farming Conference (OFC) board as a new Director, taking the lead on the OFC Scholars Programme. This was an absolute honour, especially having been an alumna of the programme myself.

In addition to my role as an OFC Director, I am also a STEM ambassador and Lantra Industry Champion and am enthusiastic about showcasing the diverse range of career opportunities within the land-based sector. I have also worked alongside my fellow OFC Directors, Will Evans and Barbara Bray, on the #LockdownLearning campaign, providing agriculture education material to aid home schooling during the height of the pandemic.

Education and upskilling are something I have always been very passionate about, especially having worked for universities and research institutes around the world. Most recently, I spent 10 years living and working in sub-Saharan Africa, including South Africa, Tanzania and Angola, researching innovative solutions for the agricultural industry while supervising MSc/PhD students during their studies. I find supporting and mentoring students through their learning journeys one of the most satisfying and rewarding aspects of my job. During my time in sub-Saharan Africa, I also learnt that education isn’t always a given, and we are so privileged here in the UK to have access to free high-quality education. So, I implore anyone to grab educational and upskilling opportunities with both hands!

I have also been very fortunate in my own personal development journey. After completing a distance learning MBA in 2018, I was selected to be a part of the Nuffield Farming Scholarship programme, which focuses on fostering leaders and developing networks in the global agricultural community. The Nuffield programme gave me the opportunity to travel for 26 weeks across US, Canada, Brazil, Kenya, Ukraine, South Africa, Japan, Norway, Netherlands, Belgium, Czech Rep, New Zealand and Australia, to analyse the global challenges and opportunities impacting the agricultural industry, with a specific focus on slug control. During this process I developed relationships across the value chain, and identified gaps in research, as well as business opportunities, and now hold the honorary position of Chair for Nuffield Scotland.

Since moving back to the UK, it is becoming ever evident the importance of education and upskilling opportunities within the land-based sector. Brexit have placed a spotlight on UK agriculture and has emphasised the need for increased productivity, all while sustaining the environment for future generations. In addition, it has also highlighted the skills shortage within the AgriFood sector, and as we begin to rely more on more on innovation, science, technology and data, there is a real need to attract talented people from a diverse range of backgrounds into our sector.

In addition, with the impact of COVID-19 there is a need to create more meaningful networking opportunities for young people in the early stages of their career. The pandemic has had a significant impact on the events industry, so as restrictions ease, it opens up exciting network opportunities. For me, working and travelling overseas allowed me to grow my professional network which has been vital for my current role at CHAP. Networking is a valuable tool that allows development of relationships, exchange of ideas, growth of professional status, improved self-confidence, and can lead to long lasting friendships.

My hope is that the new and improved OFC Scholars Programme, sponsored by McDonalds UK, will provide young people in the early stages of their career with peer-to-peer networking opportunities to share views and ideas, while gaining access to key skills development training on topics such as multimedia, leadership, innovation and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) training. OFC Scholars will also get access to the upcoming OFC Bitesize events, as well as the main conference with this year’s theme being Route to Resilience.

We also have the Breaking Barriers Scholarship returning for 2022 which is in partnership with McDonald’s UK, offering two funded scholarships to be part of the OFC Scholars Programme. This is targeted towards candidates who reflect a broad diversity of backgrounds, geographies and academic experience, and come from outside of the Agri-food sector but have a keen interest. This Scholarship requires no formal qualifications in Agri-food subjects but we are looking for people who are passionate about food production. 

If you are interested in learning more about the Breaking Barriers Scholarship, or wider OFC Scholars programme, then please contact: