As full employment approaches, agri-food industry actively seeks ‘the right people in the right positions’
Are you a woman with past experience in the agriculture and food industry? Have you considered returning to work, but worry that your skills are out of date?
The agri-food sector is Ireland’s largest indigenous industry, estimated by Bord Bia to have €13.6 billion in total exports (2018).
Research has shown that following a career break, many highly skilled women feel they lack expertise and, as a result, they avoid returning to paid work, due to an assumed lack of knowledge, and therefore of confidence.
If you can relate to that, a recent initiative by The Food Industry Training Unit at UCC may be just the stepping stone needed in order to re-enter the workforce.
Called Rejuvenate, it is a fully-funded programme specifically aimed at women making the transition back to professional roles in Ireland’s agri-food industries, industries traditionally categorised as those involved in food products, meat, dairy, and beverages, along with non-edible items such as live horses, animal foodstuffs, forestry, animal hides and skins.
The UCC course endeavours to ‘rejuvenate’ agri-food sector careers, and to address the need for a skilled workforce in the sector.
According to Bord Bia statistics, the Agri-Food sector is critical to the Irish economy, accounting for 7.9% of total employment.
As Ireland approaches full employment, the industry is actively looking to employ.
Market and trade research insights suggest that the global demand for Irish food and drink is very positive in 2019, and Bord Bia’s marketing department anticipates growth in exports to emerging economies in Asia and elsewhere, in the future.
Other sectors of the Irish workforce, particularly financial services and IT, have long acknowledged the importance of embracing experienced workers to re-enter the workforce, providing re-training and up-skilling accordingly.
Until now, however, the food sector lagged behind, by not providing such opportunities for ex-professionals.
Rejuvenate, the first of its kind in Ireland, is fully bespoke to address this missing link.
The Food Wise 2025 growth vision for the Irish agricultural economy for the next decade, prepared by the industry, has envisaged creation of an additional 23,000 direct jobs along the agri-food chain, from primary production to product development.
However, the greatest hurdle envisaged is finding ‘the right people in the right positions,’ in addition to the broader sustainability issues such as climate change, food security, and environmental management.
The Rejuvenate endeavour to bring UCC’s graduate expertise to a more mature audience, emerged from the potential for supporting women seen in the Taste 4 Success Skillnet, which helps its members to identify and drive training and upskilling in the food and drink sectors, and to meet business, people, and performance needs.
The nine-day Rejuvenate programme has been specifically designed by food training experts to build confidence in women, give them an opportunity to learn practical skills, and help their job search and subsequent re-entry to the workplace.
Probably the most essential component of Rejuvenate is that it provides opportunities for participants to re-join the food industry during a short-term work placement.
Here, hands-on course participants gain experience and see current practice in the sector.
According to Rejuvenate programme manager Dr Joanne Fearon, “The final element will be agri-food specific topics and trends, to bring returning women right up to speed with what is happening in this fast-paced sector in 2019.”
The course will be delivered to small groups in both the classroom and industry.
UCC’s extensive network of contacts allows the college, through this mentored and facilitated programme, to build real bridges between professional women and potential employers.
If you are interested in participating, however, you may have to act fast, as places are limited, albeit for a reason.
Dr Joanne Fearon states, ‘We are offering 20 fully-funded places on the course. Part of the value will be in the group work and interaction, so I want to keep it small.
“We are targeting professional women such as food scientists, nutritionists, and process engineers, but also women from allied fields such as IT and finance.’
Although the typical participant should have a minimum qualification in food or equivalent, the course providers are not only concerned with the participant’s levels of education; on the contrary, Dr Fearon states that equivalent professional experience will also be taken into account and ‘a keenness to return to work is more important than academic background.’
A mixture of employability skills are taught, including the key job searching skills such as CVs, cover letters, understanding job listings, working with agencies, interviews and use of LinkedIn.
Confidence building and career planning are an integral part of the course.
The individual work placement may take place in a traditional food industry or in an industry-related project or research field.
A series of workshops will offer small group learning opportunities for women, enabling them to explore the mechanics of returning to work, and to plan for career progression into the future.
And, worth noting, if a participant secures employment at the end of the programme, they do not have to complete the work placement.
Dr Fearon, who has extensive interests in training in the workplace, and over ten years’ experience training young professionals in the agri-food sector, states, “We have decided to run it in the Workbench space in Bank of Ireland, Patrick Street, here in Cork, using its community space to make it accessible to as many as possible.”
The core programme will run on nine days over three weeks in September, with school-friendly hours, to be followed up by a bespoke work experience programme.
Caroline Seacy (email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 021-4901424), Marketing, The Food Institute, University College, can facilitate any contact or enquiries regarding this innovative programme.
For further information, email to J.Fearon@ucc.ie or to email@example.com (Breda Barber).
The agri-food sector makes a very significant contribution to the Irish economy, boosting the viability of Ireland’s rural and coastal communities.
It’s an industry deeply embedded in the landscape, history and personality of the country. But the Irish agri-food industry’s need to embrace diversity was emphasised at a 2018 meeting of agri-business professionals organised by a network of women called Ceres, which aims to act as a role model organisation and inspiration for the next generation of women within the industry.
A key outcome of this meeting was the birth of the Rejuvenate course run by The Food Industry Training Unit at UCC, which aims to help women get back to work in the food and agri-food sectors.
The agri-food industry has publicly acknowledged its need to invest in people across the entire supply chain, and, if it can recruit and retain top talent, Food Wise 2025’s goals (the ten-year vision for the Irish agri-food industry) should be feasible and realistic.
The fully-funded Rejuvenate course of workshops will run from September 9, and is open now for application, to all female agri-food professionals who have taken a minimum of 12 months career break in the last five years.
Participants must be available for full-time hours for the four-week duration of the programme.
The course programme runs as follows:
What to expect: