'Many students are getting jobs straight after leaving college'

Agri courses are in demand at UCD.
Agri courses are in demand at UCD.

Sarah Stack

The agriculture industry is one of Ireland's largest employers with opportunities across the sector in food and agriculture to business and services, according to a leading career guidance counsellor.

Betty McLaughlin said employment prospects for young people who complete a Certificate or a Degree in Agricultural (Ag) Science are better than ever, with the majority of students gaining fulfilling employment in Ireland or overseas.

Betty, the former President of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (ICG), said none of her past pupils who studied Ag Science have regretted their chosen career path. She advises anyone considering it in further education to take the subject at Leaving Certificate level.

"When you take Ag Science as a Leaving Certificate subject, 25pc of the course is project-based and it gives you a greater awareness of what to expect in the industry," she said. "It has the edge on other science subjects as it is the only science subject with a project-based State exam assessment element.

"From that you can make a better informed decision over what future studies you might like to do in that area, whether it's environmental science, animal science, agriculture science or the business side. It is also a great subject for students from non-farming backgrounds.

"The basic skills students need is an aptitude in science or ag science and an interest in farming, animals, the environment or business. They should also contact the careers department in colleges to learn where graduates are working and ask themselves 'would this job excite me?'"

Betty, the career guidance teacher at Coláiste Mhuire, a boys' school in Mullingar, Co Westmeath, is currently on secondment to the Department of Education to lead its Wellbeing at Junior Cycle for Teachers.

She said up to 90 students a year sit Ag Science for the Leaving Certificate at Coláiste Mhuire, with a large cohort taking the subject in UCD or going to Ballyhaise College in Co Cavan to complete their Level 5 and 6 in an agriculture-related course.

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"Students like the flexibility the courses offered," she continued. "We've recently found that many students are being snapped up and getting employment straight from Ballyhaise, while others opt to continue their education in UCD after it. Some are taking jobs with the plan to go back to university at a later stage.

"Courses in animal science, food production, horticulture, property management, environmental preservation and zoology are all areas explored within agriculture."

Betty strongly believes that hands-on work experience should be part of every course in the sector as it shows students what to expect in the workplace and can ultimately lead to more successful outcomes, especially if they travel overseas.

"A lot of young people have the travel bug and students ask specifically about which courses have an Erasmus student exchange or the opportunity to study or work abroad. When they go away it gives them the hunger to learn more as they see different ways of doing things. It's a great opportunity for them.

"There are so many jobs across the sector in companies like Kerry Foods in food and nutrition, with the Department of Agriculture or Bord Bia in quality assurance, inspections and compliance, or in meat or dairy processing. The industry is huge and there are endless opportunities for graduates," Betty added.

Jobs directly related to a degree in Agricultural Science include:

  • Q Agricultural consultant
  • Q Farm manager
  • Q Fish farm manager
  • Q Plant breeder/geneticist
  • Q Rural practice surveyor
  • Q Soil scientist

Jobs where a degree in Agricultural Science would be useful include:

  • Q Animal nutritionist
  • Q Field trials officer
  • Q Forest/woodland manager
  • Q Magazine journalist
  • Q Newspaper journalist
  • Q Sales executive

Irish Independent

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