Prepared consumer food sector highlights labour challenge

Food Drink Ireland, the Ibec group that represents the food and drink sector, says that while today’s CSO statistic which shows that unemployment has fallen to 4.8% highlights a strong economy, it also underlines the increasing challenges that the tight labour market is posing for labour-intensive sectors such as prepared consumer foods (PCF).

Published today, a new report entitled ‘A sector with a lot on its plate: Labour challenges in the Prepared Consumer Food sector 2019’ presents policy proposals designed to alleviate the immediate constraints and position the PCF sector for continued growth. These include calls to extend employment permit schemes for foreign workers across the food processing sector so that labour shortages do not impact in existing business and growth prospects.

Linda Stuart-Trainor, Director of Prepared Consumer Foods in Food Drink Ireland, outlined: “People are at the heart of Ireland’s PCF sector – from food scientists to operatives on the factory floor to top marketing talent. It is vital that access to labour and skills does not become the weak link in the food supply chain.

“Already some companies are expressing caution in bidding for contracts or making plans to expand capacity as they are not confident there will be an adequate supply of labour and skills to deliver on these commitments. Without policy interventions, this situation is likely to worsen.”

Other proposals from the report include:
    • Drive research into automation and its application in the PCF sector
    • Provide support to firms to develop Industry 4.0 pilots in-house and boost supports for Industry 4.0 capital investments
    • Provide funding for an agri-food careers portal from the National Training Fund
    • Convene a millennial focus group to better understand how to attract and retain graduates

Ms Stuart-Trainor concluded: “Government must take decisive action now to support this sector, which is of vital strategic importance to the Irish economy and society. With exports of €2.6bn and direct employment of over 22,000, the PCF sector is an increasingly internationalised sector at the nexus of evolving consumer demands and science-based innovation. It provides career opportunities in a wide variety of roles, for a range of skill levels.”

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