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Recruitment issues for Northern Ireland

Dairy jersey cow in a field

The agricultural and food industry in Northern Ireland is facing problems with recruitment, according to the results of a recent consultation.

Businesses in the country are struggling to find staff with the right skills to fit crucial positions – which means a field day could be ahead for anyone looking to relocate for work.

Workers on the wane

Agri-food businesses have been complaining about the lack of new talent in Northern Ireland, something which they at least partially blame on a bad reputation.

Jersey cow

They say that people are leaving school without awareness of the full range of job opportunities which are available within the industry. Most school leavers believe that repetitive work and low pay are the only options waiting for them in food and agriculture – not realising that there are plenty of skilled positions which could seriously pay off, as well as opportunities in executive food jobs. They want more young people to be aware of the career paths that are available to them.

"Misconceptions about the sector such as low pay, poor conditions, production line and shift work are hurdles which must be overcome," says Harry Hamilton, the spokesman for a project named Harvesting Tomorrow’s Skills. "In reality, the industry offers an array of options, competitive salaries and career development opportunities."

47% of firms within the food and drink industry in Northern Ireland said that they could not recruit the staff members that they needed with the right skills. This is bad news for the country, as food and drink is the biggest manufacturing sector of their economy. Annual sales amount to £4.5 billion.

New project for leavers

Cue the Harvesting Tomorrow’s Skills project, which is working hard to ensure that school leavers are aware of the food and drink sector and are able to focus on the more appealing aspects.

The project has been backed by Invest NI for a term of two years, during which it will work with schools, colleges, and local councils to see that more is done.

Agri-food companies in Northern Ireland have, until recently, relied on migrant works from the EU – but there are now concerns that the pool of candidates will not be as large once the Brexit talks are finalised. This may mean a serious dearth of jobs in the industry, with companies not able to keep up with current outputs.

The time is now if you want to get in on the industry, as the concerns are high and businesses are on the lookout for top talent. Remember, if you are looking for international jobs in the food industry, you don’t have to look any further than our own job listings. If this project is successful, there will no longer be so much of a gap after the next two years are over, as youngsters coming out of schools will start to take the available positions.

Those already in agri-food jobs will be offered extra training to ensure that they stay within the industry rather than leaving to go elsewhere. They will also be trained before they take the jobs, with schools and colleges set for extra encouragement when it comes to training courses in relevant areas. This means that the new crop of leaves will be better qualified and more interested in taking jobs in the industry.

It will be interesting to see how this story progresses. What will the agri-food landscape look like in Northern Ireland by the end of 2019? Are we set to see a transformed workforce, switching from European to local workers? Only time will tell, but for now, there’s a fair shot of it happening.