“There’s loads of potential in Brazil at all level — universities, agricultural colleges and just average farm workers… we should be looking at bringing them over for two years and give them a qualification for when they go back,” he said.
Starting next month the ‘Dairy Operative Skills Programme’ —supported by the Department of Social Protection, Teagasc, the Irish Farmers’ Association, Farm Relief Services and Macra na Feirme Young Farmer Skillnet — will provide interested individuals with a four-week training course on dairy operative skills.
Jobseekers who participate in the part-time training course will retain their usual social welfare payment during the course. All jobseekers who subsequently obtain employment in the sector will be subject to means test rules.
Edmond Connolly of the South East Regional Skills Forum said all the stakeholders in the region wanted to take practical steps to address the counties’ acute labour issue on a seasonal basis.
The average dairy herd size in Kilkenny is 95 cows, while the average in Waterford is 105 cows.
“We are reaching out to jobseekers, drystock farmers and women who might like the opportunity for some additional earnings.
“The primary focus is milking skills to milk cows but as this develops, the hope is that candidates would progress, stay in the sector, improve their skills and maybe go from being a milking assistant to being main milker on a large dairy farm. Potentially there could be opportunities to get into herd management,” he said.
Stakeholders are looking to initially attract 20-24 local candidates for the course.
Mr Connolly said that if a candidate has no previous farming experience they will be afforded opportunities to progress through further training.
“If someone was working full-time for a four-month period they could earn up to €5,000.
“On a part-time seasonal basis, depending on skills and experience, candidates could earn in the region of €10-€14 an hour,” he said, adding that if successful, the course could be rolled out nationally.
However, Independent TD Michael Fitzmaurice has warned that such plans will rankle with other agri sectors.
“Is dairy the only thing that matters in this country? Do the beef sector, the sheep sector and the contractors doing the work and struggling in parts of the country to get staff not matter anymore?
“Is the country solely driven now by dairy?” he asked.
“I have no problem with getting people back to work but I do believe that all sectors should be treated the same.”
However, Mr Connolly stressed that the dairy sector is not getting preferential treatment.
“There is an acute issue in dairying so that is our focus, it’s not a question of picking one sector over the other.
“If this works, the likes of the horticulture sector and tillage and any other sector… we can take the same approach,” he said.
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