Horse sector faces labour crisis - The thoroughbred industry is struggling to fill job vacancies


There is a major shortage of young people entering the Irish horse breeding industry
There is a major shortage of young people entering the Irish horse breeding industry
Paul McGrath
Siobhan English

Siobhan English

With more young people leaving school and heading straight to college, the thoroughbred and sport horse industries are finding it increasingly difficult to find enthusiastic staff to join the pay roll.

Each week, there are dozens of good jobs advertised in the national press, yet the vacancies are hard to fill.

School-leavers are being encouraged to get a third-level qualification, and those graduating are opting for easier jobs both at home and abroad.

"There is going to be an even more serious staffing crisis in stud farms if we cannot encourage more young people to come on board," says breeder Paul McGrath (below).

A native of Clashmore in West Waterford, he has witnessed the issue first hand from his time managing a large private stud farm in the south of the country.

"We were fortunate in recent weeks to take on two young staff members and they are proving to be brilliant workers, but overall, there is a serious shortage out there.

"Unfortunately, so many are now going straight to college and after that, they just want nine-to-five jobs. We do not need people with degrees - we badly need those with common sense and who are willing to learn.

"There are some fantastic opportunities out there and the ITBA Next Generation Apprenticeship Scheme is one great way of getting into the business."

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Paul McGrath

Now just 26, Paul himself only got interested in horses at the age of 16, having come from a purely farming background.

"While still in school, I used to spend my weekends with well-known breeder Frank Motherway. After that, I studied agriculture in Kildalton College and, as the eldest son, was looking at a life in farming. We keep pedigree Charolais cattle," he said.

"It was only when I did my placement with another breeder, Seamus Kennedy, and his sister Elizabeth that I decided this is what I wanted to do. Seamus had advised me to join the ITBA Next Generation which offered great support and encouragement."

Open to all, the ITBA Next Generation provides fantastic opportunities for young members in the form of education seminars, networking opportunities and visits to trainers' yards and stud farms.

It was also around this time that Paul acquired his first broodmare, Nerissa, a daughter of Great Palm and from the same family as Folsom Blue, The Game Changer and Spirit Leader.

Since then, he has increased his herd with the addition of Uranna, formerly trained by Willie Mullins.

At the most recent sales in Fairyhouse, both Uranna and Nerissa produced foals that sold for €50,000 and €20,000 respectively. Uranna has also produced a yearling filly by Shantou and she will most likely be retained by her breeder for racing.

With his mind firmly set in the thoroughbred industry, Paul applied for the ITBA Apprenticeship Scheme in 2010, but wasn't successful. Instead, he completed the course at the Irish National Stud.

"I know myself I did not have enough experience to get the apprenticeship at the time, but it has since proven to be a wonderful stepping stone for a lot of young people."

In recent years, Paul has also worked with Jim Bolger, from whom he gained immense experience in both the racing and breeding side of the industry.

In time, Paul would love to branch out on his own, but for now, he is content in his current role as a stud manager closer to home.

"I have been lucky in that I have worked with some great people and the guidance I have received from past and present employers has been invaluable.

"I have also had great support from my family and hard work and determination have got me to where I am now. Down the road, I would love to run my own business," he said.

Scheme providing the perfect springboard for horse enthusiasts

For the past eight years, the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders' Association Next Generation Apprenticeship Scheme has been established as a proven platform for young breeding and racing enthusiasts to carve out a very successful and challenging career in the Irish bloodstock industry.

Up to 2018, each year two candidates were selected to work in three key areas of the industry over a 12-month period.

With staffing crisis at an all-time high, the scheme has now undergone an overhaul and the 2019 programme will offer up to 10 individuals the opportunity of one year's paid employment on a stud farm.

Throughout the placement, apprentices will learn the basic skills required to work on a stud farm. This will involve both personal and professional mentoring from both employer and the ITBA. Included in the apprenticeship will be training days and seminars to assist with career development.

Commenting on the scheme, Apprenticeship Coordinator Isabelle Carroll said: "Over the last number of months, we have been approached by our members highlighting the difficulty with recruiting entry-level staff. We are very excited about the scheme, which is an invaluable opportunity for those interested in pursuing a career in the thoroughbred breeding industry.

"Together with mentoring students and on-the-job training, the scheme will provide guidance throughout the year to maximise learning outcomes."

With the programme due to commence on January 21, potential apprentices must register their interest by December 7. A selection process will then follow shortly after.

An induction course is due to take place in early January before the start of the programme. The application form is available to download on or across their social media platforms.

For further information, contact Isabelle Carroll on 045 877543 or email

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