Food Wise 2025

Delivering Growth

Chapter 6 – Delivering Growth

Human Capital

The development of the Irish Agri-food sector over the last 50 years has been supported by and led to the development of a wide range of expertise and knowledge in both private and public sectors and across all levels of the sector.  This skills and knowledge base provides a valuable and solid footing for the continued development of the sector and there is a clear need to ensure that those working in the food and beverage industry are valued and recognised as key to the industry’s success.

If the sector is to build on the strong base and reach its optimum future potential growth, manage the challenges associated with competitiveness, profitability and volatility and nurture an environment supporting innovation it will need to both retain the current high quality, knowledgeable and experienced people it has developed and attract new ambitious educated and motivated people.  The sector faces challenges and there are skills gaps which must be filled across the sector and up and down the supply and value chains to enable the potential of the sector to be realised.

The ability of the sector to retain, access and attract the best talent to address these skills gaps represents a key challenge towards 2025 and will define the capacity of sector to realise 2025 growth, development and sustainability targets.  As the agri-food sector becomes more knowledge-intensive, education and skills development are even more critical for success and there must be an emphasis on up-skilling and training ambitious people to drive the future development of the sector.

The sector therefore needs to:

a) attract, retain and develop talent capability through developing a structured career learning and development pathway that would facilitate progression from entry to senior leadership levels and

b) promote itself as a career path of choice among school leavers and university graduates, as a modern sector with exciting opportunities in agri-food sector business expansion, innovation, marketing, consumer insights, research and technological development and nutritional product development.  

The sector is also increasingly a platform for supporting other sectors of the economy including pharma, tourism, bioeconomy, biotechnology, bioenergy, health and wellness and the synergies with these other industries provide exciting possibilities to attract new well educated talent to the agri-food sector and to provide potential crossover opportunities with these sectors.
The attraction of the right talent will require the industry and state agencies to have in place attractive and comprehensive educational and training supports which are targeted at developing the skillsets required to maximise the profitability and sustainability of the sector all along the supply chain from producer level to those delivering product solutions for high value export markets and all stages in between.

There are a range of skills gaps which could constrain the industry’s future growth and there must be significant investment in education, knowledge transfer and training programmes if the required levels of expertise and skills are to be in place to support the development of the sector.  This strategy will therefore support the development of measures and programmes which provide producers, processors and exporters with support to develop the human capital needed to realise the opportunities and address the challenges  they face including the need to improve productivity, adopt new processes and technologies, improve financial planning and business development capabilities, product innovation and research, deliver environmental efficiency and sustainability, marketing and market development.

At producer level, the strategy will support the development of ongoing and lifelong education, training and knowledge transfer programmes to give farmers, fishermen and forest owners the tools and skills to develop their business enterprises, maximise their profitability and utilise their resources in the most productive sustainable manner by enabling them to integrate the latest technologies and processes into their day to day operations. Family farms must also increasingly utilise the skills of all family members to assist in the development of their farm business enterprises.

At processing level the focus of the strategy will be on allowing Irish agri-food companies to develop to their maximum potential by helping them to attract and access the human capital they need to grow their companies through product or process innovation, increased capacity to absorb new technologies and product research, develop leadership and corporate governance expertise, financial planning and business expansion acumen and through enhanced marketing capability to develop new markets for their products.

Some consideration also needs to be given to enhancing national capability in laboratory-based science required to safeguard the food chain, both within private commercial enterprises and publicly-funded entities. State-funded laboratories should explore collaborative approaches in developing new skillsets and more efficiently implementing new technologies.   

This Strategy focuses on harnessing the capabilities of state agencies, educational institutes and industry to develop the skills of the Irish Agri-food sector, the skills which will provide the tools to the sector to maximise sustainable growth and enable the sector to deliver large numbers of jobs and indigenous economic growth for the Irish economy over the next ten years.

Skills Needs
Producer Level

At primary producer level profitability and viability will be driven by highly skilled farmers, fisherman and forest owners.  There is a need to provide ongoing training to all producers to ensure that at each stage of development of the primary producer businesses the appropriate skillsets and knowledge are applied. These include:

  • Financial and business development management skills to drive expansion and profitability of the business enterprises including tools to manage price/income volatility and ensure producers are financially fit;

  • Knowledge transfer of latest research, technological innovations and processes which will drive productivity, efficiency and profitability including application of latest sustainability and environmental efficiency measures, animal health practices, health and safety measures and animal welfare practices;

  • Availability of skilled additional labour units for expanding farms;

  • Management training to lead staff/employees;



Education Programmes

  • A review of existing level 5 and 6 further education awards and curricula in agriculture and associated curricula should be undertaken. Teagasc will undertake this review under the auspices of Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI), in consultation with a wide body of stakeholders to ensure that they are both fit-for-purpose and to future proof them in terms of emerging industry needs.

  • This review should identify for each career step the essential skill sets for different roles and produce a competency matrix which identifies the skillsets and the education and training requirements to reach them.

  • Teagasc to seek delegated authority to make education awards as part of new Quality and Qualifications Ireland (QQI) structure. This would allow more flexible and responsive development of future agricultural education programmes.

  • Review and further develop eligibility criteria for agricultural education programmes to allow for more flexible access for young non-agricultural graduates to agriculture education programmes.

  • Teagasc to continue to calibrate its education function to match the needs of industry, for example through the development and introduction of customised short training programmes along the lines of the recently introduced milking skills training for operatives.

  • Continued Professional Development of Professional Agricultural Advisors to ensure that the most up to date environmental and sustainability science-based knowledge and best practice underlies the operation of Schemes. 

  • Continued Professional Development for Agricultural Advisors to include knowledge transfer, specific to water quality protection and improvement, from the Agricultural Catchments Programme

  • Consideration of innovative methods for agricultural education delivery, such as using participatory training methods such as on-farm placement modules, e-learning and other best practice as part of the entrant and adult programmes.

  • Increase enrolments in Level 6 Advanced Dairy Programme and Professional Diploma in Dairy Farm Management and seek to fast track entry to the latter in association with UCD.

  • Explore the possibility of developing an applied leaving certificate course in agriculture.

  • Certification system to be introduced to cover  crew training and qualification on board fishing vessels

    Knowledge Transfer

    • Maintain an effective, independent, national advisory service providing a locally-based contact point for all farmers through farmer education, consultation and a wide range of communication and influencing activities, using appropriate mechanisms to optimize service delivery to farmers.

    • Full implementation of Knowledge Transfer measures of RDP 2014-2020 to up skill producers and agricultural advisors including:

      • Development of Knowledge Transfer Groups to optimise producer productivity and profitability in the beef, dairy, equine, poultry, sheep and tillage sectors;

      • Support for European Innovation Partnership Operational Groups to strengthen linkages between the results of research and innovation and their implementation at farm level;

      • Supports for Continuous Professional Development of professional advisors on an ongoing basis to further develop their knowledge base;

      • Targeted On-Farm Advisory Service to deliver specific advice to farmers on important animal health and welfare issues; and

      • Provide specific advice on environmental, bio-diversity and climate change issues to help contribute to the development of a more sustainable agri-sector.
    • Teagasc to prioritise the development of a new Dairy Expansion Service to deliver one to one services to support dairy farm businesses in planning and monitoring their dairy expansion operations.
    • Expansion of the current discussion group model to provide access to up to date research and information,  in the areas of grassland and soil management; genetics and breeding; financial management/business planning and price volatility management; animal health and welfare; environment and farm safety. This should to be backed by a number of commercially operated beef demonstration farms.

    • Implement a third phase of the Teagasc/Farmers Journal BETTER Farm Beef Programme with an emphasis on transferring best practice in management and breeding to the maximum number of farms.

    • Develop specialised Knowledge Transfer programmes to upskill farmers who are employing extra labour units in areas such as improving current farm practices; employing staff; responsibilities as an employer.

    • Develop targeted extension campaigns on financial fitness dealing with volatility management, business planning and investment planning.

    • Further development of simple software tools to support financial and business planning at farm level to encourage uptake in usage of these tools which support budgeting, viability and financial decision making at farm level.

    • Teagasc to continue to develop its ‘Options Plus’ programme for improving off-farm income generation of farmers and to link farm families with the variety of learning opportunities provided by other agencies including the ETBs, LEOs, LDCs, third level institutions and Social Welfare including the development of a communication tool which contains a calendar of skills training opportunities on a regional basis.

    • Teagasc to establish a pig farm manager course.

    • Consider the development of a Poultry advisory and research service, in partnership with industry to support poultry farm management.

    • Enhance hill farming systems by promoting greater integration with lowlands sheep producers through the formation of joint hill/lowland knowledge transfer groups.

    • Launch a  knowledge transfer measure with an emphasis on promoting and developing the use of Integrated Pest Management principles in the tillage and horticultural sectors

    • Establish knowledge transfer groups for malting barley growers

    • Teagasc to develop a Technology Outreach Service to support rural-based agri-professionals in delivering services to farmers.


Skills Needs
Agri-Food Companies

The processing sector has a number of challenges and  skillset needs which must be addressed if food companies are to develop and reach their potential towards 2025 these include:

  • The need to attract and develop management and leadership capability.

  • Lack of ‘in-company’ capability to accelerate market development and direct market access.

  • Capability to access finance through business and financial planning expertise.

  • Lack of technical capacity to absorb new research and innovation from research bodies. 

  • Inability to develop management teams, implement succession planning, plan for mergers and acquisitions and professionalise corporate governance structures.

  • Limited ability to attract and access  third level graduates with skillsets to address these gaps.

  • Lack of skilled operatives in certain key areas such as engineering, maintenance and technicians


  • Reconvene the Expert Group on Future Skills for Industry and update the report on Future Skills Needs in the Food and Drinks sector at management, financial, innovation and operational levels.

  • DAFM, through its research funding programmes (Stimulus, FIRM and CoFoRD), to continue to support the development of the new thought and technology leaders for the agri-food sector through supporting agri-food Masters and PhD students on suitable scientific and impactful research projects.  

  • The DAFM funded Agri-Food Graduate Development Programme to be used as a platform to develop a model to deliver continuous professional development to graduates in agri-food companies through short themed modular courses and work placed Masters and PhD programmes.

  • To ensure food clients have the essential capabilities and capacity in place to support ambitious international growth strategies  Enterprise Ireland will continue to develop customised management programmes around key themes of Leadership and Management Development, Operational and Manufacturing development capacity, International Sales and Marketing, Innovation and Entrepreneur Development, to inspire ambitious business leaders and equip them with the tools and techniques to grow their businesses.  These programmes include Leadership for Growth, Innovation for Growth, Platform for Growth, Business Processing Offer, Foodworks and Competitiveness Improvement Programme.

  • Enterprise Ireland to develop a portfolio of business-focused executive development programmes in partnership with the third level sector which include a focus on building specialist business and leadership capability at middle-management level in order to support the development and retention of future leaders within the agri-food sector.

  • Enterprise Ireland to develop Leadership for Growth (L4G) Alumni Master Classes that are tailored to address the need of clients.

  • Enterprise Ireland will promote and develop Gradhub’s Graduate Business Growth Initiative (Graduate Placement) to assist indigenous food and drink SMEs to scale and grow their businesses through the introduction of graduate talent.

  • To increase innovation capability and absorption capacity across the sector Enterprise Ireland, in association with the relevant research institutions will design and develop a Food Innovation Fellowship programme to increase and embed technical capability within food companies.

  • Enterprise Ireland’s Innovation 4 Growth programme will support companies to implement innovation practices, processes and culture with a focus on market led innovation.

  • Expansion of the competency and professional development of small businesses through the evolution and strengthening of structured platforms such as Food Academy, Food Works, Vantage.

  • Teagasc will develop an industry-based Walsh Fellowship Postgraduate scheme to enhance the scientific absorption capacity of the food SME sector.

  • Explore formal opportunities to transfer learnings from food and drink production to new sector entrants via mentoring, training and skills transfer by Industry, Skillnets, universities, schools and Agri Aware.

  • Enterprise Ireland and Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) to continue to develop a series of tailored executive development programmes in the Seafood sector to prioritise leadership and management development, technical development (including safety and green manufacturing), and sales and marketing. 


Skills Needs

The potential of the sector to access new markets will require expertise and the development of the marketing capabilities of the sector.


  • Greater capacity must be developed around marketing and branding with a focus on increasing the number of international marketing graduates employed in the sector. Explore opportunities for industry co-funding/sponsorship to significantly increase these resources on the ground and extend the sector’s market reach.

  • Continue to build on the Bord Bia ‘Marketing Fellowship’ and ‘Food Marketing Graduate’ programmes to deliver high quality talent to the food industry.

  • Build on the Origin Green Ambassador programme to engage with targeted customers to build awareness and understanding of Ireland and the Origin Green programme. 

  • Communicate benefits of working in the food and drink industry throughout school, undergraduate and postgraduate programmes.

  • Bord Bia to establish a Market Placement programme which assigns Irish graduates to global target customers.  The programme will create a group of graduates skilled in best practice which they will bring back to Irish industry upon their return.  The placement will also serve to raise awareness and understanding amongst host companies of Ireland and its industry capabilities. 

  • Enterprise Ireland and Bord Bia to collaborate with industry on the development of a pilot support programme for agri-food companies to resource overseas market research initiatives.

  • BIM to build market scaling of companies through its co-opetition programme  


Skills Needs
Health and safety


  • DAFM, Teagasc and the Health and Safety Authority to continue to support educational initiatives supporting behavioural change at farm level in respect of safety in particular as part of knowledge transfer groups and level 6 ( green cert) education.

  • Engineered solutions to safety, such as those available under the Farm Safety scheme, to remain a priority in grant aided investment programmes, where available.

  • BIM to provide an enhanced programme of training for crew of fishing vessels with a strong focus on safety at sea.


Skills Needs


New market development will require improved foreign language capability of Irish companies to facilitate access to new markets.



New market development will require improved foreign language capability of Irish companies to facilitate access to new markets.

  • Bord Bia to implement the undergraduate Language Bursary Programme to improve the language proficiency of graduates coming from degree programmes strategically important to the food and drink industry such as Agricultural Science, Food and Nutritional Sciences and Food Marketing and Entrepreneurship.

  • Consider better engagement with existing young Irish diaspora living in foreign markets as a potential source for recruiting talent and skills through better harnessing of networks and data from Irish Embassy networks.