Agri-food job creation set to match rise of interest in college courses

AGRI-FOOD job creation in the coming years looks set to match the surge in interest in the sector’s third level college places, according to one recruitment expert.

Student numbers applying for Central Applications Office (CAO) college places showed a 28% surge in interest in agriculture courses. The swing towards agri-food courses was the standout positive trend in this year’s applications.

Dublin-based Dalriada executive research and selection partner Fiona Tierney said those who are promoting the sector’s job-creating potential are justified in their optimism.

Ms Tierney said: “We are very optimistic about the employment prospects in agri-food. We have been watching the sector for the past few years, and we believe it will create a lot of high-quality jobs over the next five or six years in the build-up to the end of the quota era in 2015.

“The whole sector will attract a lot of graduates. These will be agri-food graduate obviously, but also graduates from science, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, production and quality systems management roles.

“The sector will also recruit people with marketing and sales skills. Those students applying for CAO places this year recognise the sector’s growth and they want to be part of success stories like Bord Bia, the Dairy Board, Kerry Group, Glanbia and the Carbery group.”

The 28% surge in CAO applications for agri-food places stood out from other areas of study. However, the incoming Government and industry generally will take heart from the 6% year-on-year increase in science applications.

In stark contrast, CAO applications for courses in construction and the built environment are down 28% this year, following a 20% reduction last year. For the entire country, only 185 students applied for courses in this sector.

Applications for dentistry courses are down 14%. Engineering and technology have stayed about the same (+0.35%), a disappointing result given that careers guidance experts have been promoting these sectors as likely sources of jobs in the coming years.

Interest in first-year arts courses are down 11% overall nationally. Slumps in applications were also evident in architecture and law. All of the above are aggregate figures, there were some regional variations.

Dalriada’s Fiona Tierney puts the surge in interest in agricultural courses down to students’ own research, the sector’s growing number of successful companies and the promotional efforts of the careers guidance experts in secondary schools.

Ms Tierney said: “This trend is a return towards one of Ireland’s most natural strengths, our heritage in quality food production. We have long known the important role agriculture has always played in our economy.

“Agri-food exports have an 8.5% share of total exports. The sector may not have attracted a lot of attention during the boom years, but the agri-food sector still accounts for around 25% of net foreign earnings.

“We see great job-creating potential for the sector. Those jobs should be across a very wide range of disciplines. People’s optimism in the sector is entirely understandable.”

Teagasc’s figures show there are around 130,000 farmers in Ireland.

The bulk of the new jobs likely to be created by the sector will come in developing Irish food products and bringing them to overseas markets.

The agri-food sector (including agriculture, food, drinks and tobacco) accounts for around 8% of GDP.

Primary agriculture accounts for 3% of GDP.

Industry predictions suggest that share will grow markedly over the coming years.


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