A campaign to help unemployed young people into the food industry has been backed by the country’s largest farmer at a Downing Street reception.

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Two members of staff from the Co-operative Farms’ Coldham estate, near Wisbech, were invited to meet prime minister David Cameron.

Tom Mack, aged 17, who started as an apprentice in July will start studying for NVQ qualifications in crop production this autumn and farm manager Tom Paybody were at Number 10 with a display of food grown on the estate.

They were asked to help launch Feeding Britain’s Future – Skills for Work Week, which runs from Monday. It aims to encourage young people to take up a career in the food and grocery industry and tackle youth unemployment.

Mr Paybody, 27, was also joined by Peter Marks, group chief executive of £13bn annual turnover Co-operative Group, which will offer sessions for more than 3,200 young unemployed people in more than 90 locations around the UK.

The sessions will provide young people, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, with training in the skills they need to help them secure jobs, such as creating a CV and interview techniques.

Mr Paybody, who joined Co-operative Farms in 2008 as a graduate trainee, is now manager at Coldham, which grows combinable crops and also vegetables including potatoes, onions and shallots.

The Co-operative is the biggest farmer in the country, managing about 50,000 acres.

Mr Mack said: “This was a fantastic opportunity for me to visit 10 Downing Street and meet the prime minister for the official launch of Skills for Work Week, and to help promote the food industry as a career choice for young unemployed people.

“Since I joined The Co-operative Farms I’ve learnt a great deal and found the work really rewarding, and it was a great chance for me to talk about my experiences, and hopefully encourage and inspire young unemployed people to consider the exciting and various roles the food industry has to offer.”

Mr Marks added: “With youth unemployment escalating to more than one million, businesses have a real responsibility to tackle the issue.

“We all have a part to play, and by supporting this initiative and investing in young people today, we can help provide them with the confidence and knowledge to make the most of the employment opportunities that are out there, helping to create a talented workforce for the future.

“The Co-operative is committed to helping young people into work, through schemes such as our apprenticeship academy, which is on track to provide 2,000 apprenticeships for young people by 2014.

“The scheme offers proper jobs with nationally recognised qualifications and genuine career prospects throughout our Group of businesses, from food and farming through to logistics, right across the UK.”

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