Young people need to be ''engaged'' to be attracted to work in the primary sector, says rural consultant John Bates, of Alexandra.

He recently organised an agricultural careers day at Mt Grand Station, near Lake Hawea, to introduce high school pupils from six schools to the career pathways the primary sector offered.

The day proved successful with about a dozen young people expressing interest in working in the primary sectors.

''The industry needs to think really seriously about how to engage more young people to the industry,'' Bates said.

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A Ministry of Primary Industries (MPI) report People Powered, published in 2014 estimated about an additional 50,000 people were going to be needed to work in the primary industries by 2025 and there was a growing demand for professional skills such as engineering, science and management in the sector.

MPI also released further data earlier this year that looked at the primary industries workforce and in particular the retention rate in various sectors.

Overall the average retention rate of new entrants to the primary sectors was 48 per cent after one year in the job and 29 per cent after three, while the New Zealand-wide average was 34 per cent after three years.

Lincoln University's Prof Jonathan Hickford said there was expected to be a shortage of workers in agricultural support services, and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) areas.

That is one of the reasons Mt Grand Station, Lake Hawea, hosted an on farm careers day for six high schools in the region.

''It is a much better way of engaging them with reality, and the kids really enjoyed the practical focus day - more of the practical stuff and that struck a chord,'' he said.

Prof Hickford said one of the issues was the young people having a different view of working on the land.

''What the kids are seeing is what they see through their cellphones,'' he said.

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''That is their view of the world; a jaundiced view.''

Lincoln University's liaison team leader Anna Logie said school pupils needed to realise that they could use business, engineering and maths skills [among others] in or as support for land-based industries.

''What many kids do not realise was that land-based careers could be really interesting,'' Logie said.

She said one of the issues was the failure to push careers in the primary sectors by careers advisers.

While programmes run by groups like Primary Industry Capability Alliance (PICA) were excellent, she said there were negative perceptions of the industry, particularly by urban pupils, and there was an ignorance of what careers were available, which needed to be addressed.

Prof Hickford said the free market had failed education and often students were trained for jobs that did not exist or there was a glut of applicants.

''I feel there are many kids going to university who might be better doing apprenticeships,'' he said.