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Network Profile 

Name of Network:   Food Drink Ireland Skillnet 

Number of members: 200    

Sector(s) covered: Food and Drink manufacturers and suppliers.   

Year established:  2013 

Please describe what your Skillnet Business Network does and how it came about?

At Food Drink Ireland Skillnet, our mission is to provide learning and development solutions that are critical to the success of Irish food and drink manufacturers and processors. We were established in 2013 in partnership with Ibec, as a response to the increasingly fast pace of change across the sector and subsequent impact on skills and talent. An industry-driven collaborative approach was key, and the Skillnet Ireland model was the ideal fit. Our initial focus was on leadership, management, lean principles and graduate development. While these remain as important today, our offering has expanded to include programmes in sustainability, digitalisation, regulatory and quality as well as commercial capability. 

Can you outline one important way your Network impacts positively on your sector? 

As an industry-driven network, collaboration is the key. Our approach is to identify the key issues impacting the food and drink sector, look at the implications for talent, and then examine how learning and development can play a role in addressing these issues. This involves day-to-day collaboration with industry experts across Ibec, our member companies and subject matter experts to ensure all the programmes are of the highest level of relevance, best quality and deliver genuine impact for the industry.  

What has been the most transformative initiative in your sector in the last year? 

One such initiative relates to food packaging and sustainability. For example, whilst there is a big emphasis on reducing the use of plastic packaging – packaging choices must be made in the context of food safety and shelf life. To support this, in 2022 we launched a new Certificate in Sustainable Food Packaging which deepens participants’ understanding of the form and function of packaging and the broader food production system, which in turn supports the most sustainable food packaging choices. Practical application of this learning is key, and to achieve certification, all participants are required to complete a sustainable packaging project for their business.  

What new trends do you see emerging within your industry? 

In terms of emerging trends, sustainability and digitalisation are paramount, along with their impacts on food regulation. These are key growth areas for our sector. Talent attraction, retention and performance will always be essential and require continued upskilling in leadership, people management and coaching skills. And while technology and digitalisation are critical, it is very important not to lose sight of the core food manufacturing skills such as baking, brewing and distilling, particularly due to their important role in food and drink innovation.  

How is your Network using technology to facilitate learning and development programmes? 

Technology plays a key role in Food Drink Ireland Skillnet learning programmes – and like many businesses, the recent pandemic was a powerful catalyst. Now all programmes can be delivered in a classroom, online, or using a blended approach, providing greater flexibility and still achieving the same learning impacts. While our trainers have developed key skills in delivering programmes online, our experience has shown that most learners are already proficient in learning through online platforms. Ultimately this offers the best of both worlds in our ability to deliver learning.  

What skills do you think are most important for a small business owner-manager? 

For a small business owner-manager, skills in strategy and personal leadership are crucial for success. From a strategic perspective, developing a powerful value proposition considering your core strengths and the ever-changing business environment is essential for your business success. In terms of personal leadership skills, it is critical for understanding how your behaviours and choices impact your ability to deliver on your business strategy. Leveraging the Skillnet Business Network model offers many opportunities in this regard – either through formal learning programmes or networking events that support collaboration.  

Do you have any advice for a business that is considering joining a Skillnet Business Network? 

My advice is; just do it. However, it is worth engaging with a few Skillnet Business Networks to determine which is best suited to meet your business requirements. This includes national industry-specific networks, regional networks, or networks that specialise in specific skills areas such as sustainability, automation or digitalisation.  

Learn more 

If you are thinking about developing the talent and skills of your business visit the Food Drink Ireland Skillnet website to see what upskilling and talent development opportunities are available.    

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