Vibrant industry offers opportunities for talented people

It was immensely encouraging to see so many talented and enthusiastic young people graduating recently from our universities and the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) with the skills and qualifications that the food and drink production sector needs to ensure continued growth. I know that most of the latest batch of CAFRE graduates have already found employment in the industry.

This is illustrative of the scale of opportunities our biggest industry offers young people. The food and drink industry, after all, includes many of Northern Ireland’s biggest companies and most successful exporters. I believe that the current Year of Food and Drink initiative is helping to showcase the contribution of this £5 billion industry to young people and their families. It’s a vibrant industry on the move in terms of international sales, new product development, innovation in processes and procedures and focusing increasingly on developing the skills and experience of its people. The days when food processing was seen as a low wage industry are largely in the past.
It is, furthermore, an industry offering great opportunities to entrepreneurial young people to set up their own small businesses. The emergence of a dynamic micro and small business sector in both food and drink is evidence of this encouraging trend. michele

Our food and drink products are now exported to around 80 countries worldwide. You’ll find our food being enjoyed from the US to China and from Finland to New Zealand. While sales to these markets are important, Northern Ireland is a major supplier of food and drink to the hugely significant and easily accessed markets in Great Britain and the Republic of Ireland.

Year of Food and drink has been showcasing the innovation in processes, products and career development within what is now a dynamic and progressive industry. We’ve also seen leading companies such as Dunbia in Dungannon and Genesis Crafty in Magherafelt setting up academies to develop the skills of young people. Many other businesses are now offer rewarding career progression structures for new recruits.

The strengthening export focus means greater opportunities for travel and working abroad. Food is a progressive sector with a developing focus on new technologies including preservation of the environment, alternative energies and sustainability.

Food and drink, furthermore, is an industry firmly rooted in the soil of Northern Ireland, driven by locally-owned companies and bound to remain so. We’ll always need local food and drink. As the global population grows to reach a projected nine billion by 2030, demand for the quality and safe food and drink that we provide will increase substantially. Even in Britain there are serious concerns about long-term supply of everything from vegetables and fruit to bread and meat. Our fertile soil, temperate climate and heritage in the production of premium quality food and drink should help us meet some of the challenges that the UK will face.

We’ve got to continue to press home the message about the industry and career opportunities to universities, colleges and schools and engage with parents. At FoodNI we have worked with many fantastic undergraduates on their placement years and have been impressed by the talent, dedication and new ideas they have brought to our organisation. We look forward to seeing them progress successful and rewarding careers in this great industry.