December 8, 2023

A new report launched at the BIA Innovator Campus in Athenry, Co. Galway has laid out a strong ambition for developing the skills needed in the agriculture and food sector in the west of Ireland.

“Appetite for Growth. Insights into the Skills Needs of Food and Drink Manufacturers in the West” outlines the challenges and future concerns for the sector, as well as skills deficits and potential solutions.

A collaborative response across teams and faculties in the educational sector, firmly aligned with employers’ needs is required to develop the food industry in the west, the report shows.

Food industry skills sit across a range of disciplines such as science; business; marketing; manufacturing; engineering; catering; and hospitality.

The report was recently launched by Minister of State with responsibility for disability at the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth and at the Department of Health, Anne Rabbitte.

She said the industry and the educational sector can partner to identify a skills shortage and address what entrepreneurs need to progress in their businesses.

“Bringing together companies and education providers from across the region is crucial to ensuring we have the skills and talent to drive the Irish food industry forward.

“Creating a culture of lifelong learning and upskilling in digital transformation, transversal and green skills is critical to meet the future skills needs of our economy and our society,” Regional Skills Forum manager for the west, Denise Rocks said.

Report findings

The report found that a bold shared vision and an action plan for skills development at all levels within the sector should be developed by industry and knowledge institutions.

An industry platform allowing easy access to engaging training courses, and to digitally connect stakeholders across the food supply chain was also recommended.

Further key findings and recommendations highlighted in the report include:

  • create a voluntary strategy to collect and collate data from the food industry on an ongoing basis;
  • consider an industry-wide, government-supported skills gap review or Training Needs Analysis (TNA) for mapping the current skills landscape;
  • establish industry-driven working groups involving public bodies and education providers to address skills gaps;
  • encourage regional clustering and projects to strengthen enterprise development allowing for the pooling of resources;
  • maximise funding from Europe which could create value for money for the food industry;
  • research the potential for a one stop shop of training providers across the country, channeled through the new BIA Innovator Campus.

The report will be used to inform the sector including enterprises, local education and training providers, and influence curriculum development to better reflect the needs of the local industry.

Commenting on the report, the director of BIA Innovator Campus and the chair of the education and learning sub-committee, Eithne Nic Dhonnchadha said:

“Recognising the skill deficits in the industry is critical to ensuring providers of education and training can design and deliver targeted, innovative approaches to programme content and delivery.”

The BIA Innovator Campus is a new concept agri-food support structure that will open its facilities in 2023 and operate as a national centre of excellence to provide an integrated, up-to-date approach to skills requirements within the sector in the west.

Pictured are Minster of State Rabbitte; chair BIA Innovator Campus, Peter Feeney; chair education sub committee, Eithne Nic Dhonnachadha; and Regional Skills Forum manager for the west, Denise Rocks. Image source: Martina Regan

In terms of future research requirements, the food and drink industry would also benefit from industry and government commitment to invest in supporting a sector-specific strategy for technical skills and recruitment.

Research for this report was supported by the National Training Fund from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.


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