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Preparing the next generation of food innovators

Bord Bia has teamed up with UCD and DCU to offer a number of courses aimed at all aspects of the sector

‘Our vision for this programme is to forge the next generation of world-class innovators to join the food, horticultural and beverage sectors.’ Photograph: iStock

‘Our vision for this programme is to forge the next generation of world-class innovators to join the food, horticultural and beverage sectors.’ Photograph: iStock

 

It should come as little surprise that there is a skills shortage in the Irish food and drink industry. After all, one in eight jobs in the economy are linked to it in some way and the sector accounts for almost a quarter of manufacturing industry turnover in Ireland.

Fortunately, Ireland is well served by a vast range of training and education programmes aimed at all aspects of the sector from farm to freezer. These include Teagasc agricultural and horticultural colleges, undergraduate and post-graduate programmes in the institutes of technology and universities, and a number of other courses offered by State bodies such as Bord Bia.

“The Department of Agriculture’s Foodwise 2025 strategy acknowledges that the agri-food sector will only achieve its full growth potential if it can address the considerable skills gaps within the industry,” says Dr Peter Robbins of DCU’s Business School. “This will involve significant investment in people currently working in the sector and recognition of the need to attract people with the relevant skills into roles within the industry.”

Vision

DCU Business School has teamed up with Bord Bia’s Talent Academy to offer new MSc programme in insights and innovation. “It offers a formal learning and development programme in insight-led innovation that will enhance and develop the innovation capability within Ireland’s food, beverage and horticulture sector,” he explains.

“Our vision for this programme is to forge the next generation of world-class innovators to join the food, horticultural and beverage sectors who will use their creativity, talent and skill to drive sustainable, scalable, profitable and insight-led growth for their host companies and for their industry.”

This 18-month programme combines study and work placement in a Bord Bia client company. It begins with an intensive academic element, with modules taught by experienced thought-leaders in the field of sustainability and NPD in the food industry. Following this, the focus moves to experiential learning, as participants conduct placements at the headquarters of the world’s leading food companies where they work side by side with leading insight and innovation practitioners and are supported by the world-class expertise of Bord Bia’s Thinking House.

“The programme is ideal for anyone aspiring to be an effective innovator in the agri-food industry,” says Robbins. “It directly prepares graduates for roles in innovation leadership, with both the technical and entrepreneurial skill sets required. Many global companies are choosing to locate their innovation, R&D, and technology centres in Ireland. This programme helps such companies to build world-class talent in the area of innovation and design thinking for the food, beverage and horticulture industry.”

Bord Bia also has a number of other MSc programmes run in conjunction with the UCD Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School.

“The International Graduate Programme is for younger participants fresh out of college and they get experience with one of Bord Bia’s offices around the world,” says Bord Bia industry talent manager Tom Tully. “The Origin Green Ambassador programme focuses on sustainability with participants being placed in major food and drinks companies around the world including Unilever, Nestle, McDonald’s and Starbucks. ”

Research-informed teaching

The Supply Chain and Procurement programme sees participants working with large retail and food service companies in commercial supply chain and procurement roles. Participants in the Marketing Fellowship programme work in international markets on sales and marketing development for Irish food and drink firms.

Ulster University Business School offers a range of short programmes geared to the needs of industry professionals. “Universities have an important role to play in providing access to education for people involved in all aspects of the food industry and our focus is on research-informed teaching based on consumer behaviour, product development and innovation,” says lecturer in consumer management and food innovation Dr Sinead Furey.

“We don’t presume to be so arrogant as to claim to know the answer before being asked the question. We offer short courses for farmers and other industry professionals based on their specific needs. They are very busy people with competing priorities, and we have to understand that.”