Farm Ireland
Independent.ie

Monday 23 July 2018

Why Teagasc isn't only hiring ag graduates these days

Some of the most exciting jobs around are STEM-related

Hundreds of farmers attended the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme open day on Christy Dowd’s farm in Ballinagare, Co Roscommon. Photo: Gerard O'Loughlin
Hundreds of farmers attended the Teagasc Green Acres Calf to Beef Programme open day on Christy Dowd’s farm in Ballinagare, Co Roscommon. Photo: Gerard O'Loughlin
Gerry Boyle, Teagasc.

Gerry Boyle

A number of years ago Teagasc undertook a foresight exercise to try to identify the key technology areas that we expect will shape the Irish and international agriculture and food sectors into the future.

Five technology areas were identified; plant and animal genomics and related technologies; human, animal and soil microbiota; digital technologies; new technologies for food processing and transformations in the food value chain system.

We see STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) skills as being crucial for providing solutions to the global problems faced in today's world.

People working in STEM are changing the world we live in. Studying STEM subjects provides a student with key skills, including critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, design and communications; all of which are highly valued by employers for many different jobs.

Traditionally, Teagasc would have employed graduates from the UCD agricultural science degree, or from the UCC food science degree, or, more recently, graduates from the institutes of technology with similar degrees, but the qualifications and skill sets now required by Teagasc have changed.

We now employ people with a much broader range of STEM qualifications to work in a wide variety of areas across our four research programmes: animal and grassland; crops, environment and land use; food; and, rural economy and development, and in our two knowledge transfer programmes; education and advisory.

Graphic on how the nature of work is changing.
Graphic on how the nature of work is changing.

In the modern era of SMART agriculture and innovative food production, we need people to be able to extract usable knowledge out of the large and growing amounts of data being collected in the sector. For example, people with qualifications in bioinformatics, which combines computer science, biology, mathematics, and engineering to analyse and interpret biological data, are extremely hard to find and recruit anywhere in the world.

Parents and teachers are the main influencers of education and career paths. Sparking an interest in science by young people, followed by the selection of science subjects in second-level school, opens the door to pursuing a third-level programme in a STEM-related area. Having a degree, master's degrees or PhD in a science-related subject is the launching pad for a successful career.

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Women continue to be under-represented in science; only 25pc of the people working in STEM-related jobs are women despite the fact that STEM-related sectors have been growing much faster than others and have significantly higher wages.

I hope that this publication will inspire young people to get engaged with STEM subjects and pursue a career in science.

Professor Gerry Boyle is Director of Teagasc


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