Farm Ireland

Saturday 21 July 2018

Skills shortage is now a 'huge' issue for dairy sector

It has become increasingly difficult to find workers in the dairy sector.
It has become increasingly difficult to find workers in the dairy sector.

Ken Whelan

An increasing shortage of skilled farm workers, particularly in the dairy sector, is being experienced by farms nationwide.

"There is a now a real shortage of skilled workers on farms with the demand for more half and full labour units on farms not being met," said Colin Donnery of the Limerick-based FRS recruitment agency.

"In February we had over 200 positions to be filled and we failed to fill them.

"It has become difficult to find people, even from the pool of foreign workers, with the skill sets to fill these jobs' he added.

The firm recruits farm personnel for the Farm Relief Services (FRS) and graduates for the agri-business sector.

Mr Donnery says the skilled labour shortage has become a 'huge problem' on farms which will have to be addressed by the agricultural authorities.

It's a view echoed by Niall O'Regan of Livestock Improvement Corporation (LIC), a New Zealand semen distributor.

"Farmers are at their wits' end about the lack of skilled labour available especially in the dairy sector," said Mr O'Regan.

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"Young lads in their twenties, who traditionally took up these jobs, usually as a stop-gap measure don't like the idea of having to do a seven-day week.

"They want more sociable hours and they take up jobs which allow them work a five day week," he added.


He believes incentives which allow the skilled farm worker to move up the farm ladder to farm manager or profit-sharing incentives will have to be developed to address the skills' shortage.

Linda O"Neill, an LIC advisor and member of the Irish Farm Managers Association, says the skills' shortage is partly due to the suspension of the Farm Apprenticeship Scheme back in 2003.

The scheme, which was revived in 2014, is making some progress in addressing the problem but she believes it will take at least another four years to re-balance the farm labour market.

Meanwhile, the jobs' outlook in the big Irish agri-business concerns is buoyant with FRS Recruitment in Tullamore, one of the 26 offices nationwide, reporting a "huge" rise in its recruitment activity.

John Miller and Sean Coughlan head up this part of the company's operations and in the past year it has recruited 230 graduates from UCD, WIT and GMIT for junior to middle management and specialist positions.

The company is currently placing Irish graduates in industrial-sized farms in Saudi Arabia and Dubai.

"The situation for graduates has improved markedly since the economic collapse and is now candidate driven rather than client driven.

"This allows graduates to pick and chose whom they work for which was not the case at the height of the economic crisis," said Mr Miller.

"The jobs are definitely out there for Ag science and Level 8 candidates," he added.

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