New Report lays out strong ambition for developing the skills needs of the Agrifood Sector in the West

A new report ‘Appetite for Growth. Insights into the Skills Needs of Food and Drink Manufacturers in the West’ was launched this week in Athenry County Galway by Minister Anne Rabbitte TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Disability at the Department of Health and the Department of Justice and Equality. This report shows the immediate challenges and future concerns for the food and beverage sector in the West, highlighting the skills deficits and potential solutions.

Quote from Anne Rabbitte; ‘Delighted to be a part of this today. What really was interesting for me, as a Minister, was how industry and education can partner so well together to address where there is a skills shortage or to address where there is a need. To address what entrepreneurs need to progress in their businesses.’

Food industry skills sit across a range of disciplines such as science, business, marketing, manufacturing, engineering, catering, hospitality. In order to develop the industry, we need a collaborative response across teams and faculties in the Educational Sector, firmly aligned with the needs of employers.

This report  will be used to inform the sector including enterprises, local education and training providers about the skills needs of employers in this cross-cutting skills sector and influence curriculum development to better reflect the needs of local industry. The objective of this research was to articulate and collate the skills requirements of start-up and scale-up businesses in the food and drink sector in the region.


Findings and Recommendations

The report highlights a number of key findings and recommendations including the following; the need to devise of a voluntary strategy to collect and collate data from the food industry (business community) on an ongoing basis; to consider an industry wide government-supported skills gap review or TNA for sector mapping the current skills landscape provision from both a quality and value perspective; a bold shared vision and an action plan for skills development at all levels within the sector should be developed by industry and knowledge institutions; the development of an industry platform to engage with training providers to create easy-access and engaging training courses; to digitally connect stakeholders across the supply chain in the food industry; to establish industry-driven working groups within Regional Skills  involving public bodies, and education providers as relevant to address skills gaps; to encourage regional clustering and short-term/long-term projects of engagement which would strengthen enterprise development in food initiatives allowing for the pooling of resources; to maximise funding from Europe (in conjunction with academia) which could create value for money for the food industry; to research the potential for a one stop shop of training providers across the country, channelled through the new Bia Innovator Campus as a National Centre of Excellence from Farm to Fork.


In terms of future research requirements, the food and drink industry would also benefit from industry and government commitment to invest in supporting a food and drink sector-specific strategy for technical skills and recruitment.

Key Data Sources 

The report is a culmination of a review of various studies and reports including; food strategies; government reports; journal articles; industry reports; key informant interviews conducted by Regional Skills West with companies; the formulation and distribution of an online survey to companies of varied scale in the west region to close any missing gaps in information determined from the published research available.


The Galway, Roscommon Education & Training Board announced the launch of two new courses; Commis Chef Traineeship Programme & Bakery Traineeship. University of Galway’s Shannon College of Hotel Management announced a range of new micro-credentials to address the transversal skills required by the food sector, including Finance for Non-Financial Managers, Leading Others, Digital Competences Data analytics, Consumer Psychology, Product Validation and Regulatory Compliance. Atlantic Technological University advised that applications are now open once again for their award-winning Certificate in Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which is 90% funded by the government’s Springboard+ initiative.


The BIA Innovator Campus strives to provide an integrated, up to date approach to skills requirements within the food Sector in the West Region, which has strong economic output within this industry sector. A BIA Innovator Education and Learning Sub-Committee was established to review the needs of the agrifood sector in terms of learning, upskilling, and creating an educated and well-equipped talent pool, prepared for employment in the food industry.


Quote from Eithne Nic Dhonnchadha, Director of Bia Innovator Campus and  Chair of Education & Learning Sub-committee; ‘…Recognising the skill deficits in industry is critical to ensuring providers of education and training can design and deliver targeted, innovative approaches to programme content and delivery.’


This will involve delivering courses at all skill levels to bolster the needs of growing companies but also to encourage future talent into the sector, either as employees or as entrepreneurs. To inform these efforts, the BIA Innovator Campus Education & Learning Committee commissioned Alpha Omega Consultants, in a process led by Regional Skills West, to conduct a key piece of research to gain insight into the skill needs of agri-food and drinks companies in the West Region.


This report was made possible and was supported by the National Training Fund from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation & Science.

Quote from Denise Rocks, Regional Skills Forum Manager West DFHERIS: 'bringing together companies and education providers from across the region is crucial to ensuring we have the skills and talent to drive the Irish food industry forward. Creating a culture of lifelong learning and upskilling in digital transformation, transversal and green skills is critical to meet the future skills needs of our economy and our society.'


Food Industry Context


The manufacture of food and drink products is Ireland’s most important indigenous industry with a turnover of €27.5 billion and exports of €13 billion. It accounts for 94% of the total external product flows from the agricultural sector (Food Drink Ireland 2022). The West Region consists of the territory of Galway City, as well as the counties of Galway, Mayo and Roscommon. Approximately 17% of people in the West region are employed in agriculture or in Accommodation & Food Service (National Skills Bulletin 2022). If we consider 2016-2018 figures since there is less fluctuation due to Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic, it can be noted that the Western Region had 23,038 people working in Accommodation & Food Service (CSO 2016), and it was the Region’s fifth largest employer. However, the Accommodation and food service sector in the Western Region in 2017, had the lowest average hourly earnings of all economic sectors. (SOLAS and National Skills Council 2018).

BIA Innovator Campus 

The BIA Innovator Campus is a new concept agrifood support structure that will open its facilities in 2023 and operate as a National Centre of Excellence. Its supports and services are fully operational since June 2022 and its team of six offer multistrand food incubation, food innovation and support services at a single location based in County Galway. The supports recognise the key role played by each part of the entire supply chain and therefore provides supports from farm to fork to support the future sustainability of the industry.


Regional Skills Forum West

A Network of Regional Skills Fora, including Regional Skills West, was created as part of the Government of Ireland’s National Skills Strategy and provides an opportunity for employers and the education and training system to work together to meet the emerging skills needs of their regions. The Fora provide:

·      a single contact point in each region to help employers connect with the range of services and supports available across the education and training system

·      more robust labour market information and analysis of employer needs to inform programme development

·      greater collaboration and utilisation of resources across the education and training system and enhancement of progression routes for learners

·      a structure for employers to become more involved in promoting employment and opportunities for career progression in their sectors 

Regional Skills West provides a free learning and talent development service for companies of any size, based in Galway, Mayo or Roscommon. Regional Skills West offers a range of free services for businesses such as skills analysis, customised reports on the training solutions and funding available and connecting businesses to education providers for upskilling. Regional Skills West also facilitates the development of new training programmes to respond to specific skills gaps faced by companies.

food launch

A new report "Appetite for Growth. Insights into the Skills Needs of Food and Drink Manufacturers in the West" was launched at the BIA Innovator Campus, Athenry by Minister Anne Rabbitte, T.D. Pictured are Anne Rabbitte, T.D. Minister of State for Disabilities, Peter Feeney, Chairperson, BIA Innovator Campus, Eithne Nic Dhonnachadha, Chair, Education Sub Committee, BIA Innovator Campus and Denise Rocks, WRSF Manager, Western Region Skills Forum. Photo Martina Regan.