Skillnet Networks’ research highlights need for diversity training in agri-food sector

Aug 13th, 2020



A new research report commissioned by Taste4Success Skillnet, Food Drink Ireland Skillnet and Midland Border East Skillnet, has revealed the challenge of cultural diversity in the agri-food sector workforce.

Ireland’s workforce has become increasingly diverse in recent decades with 17% of the overall workforce coming from outside of Ireland. However, the agri-food sector has seen higher levels of diversity with 29% of employees coming from outside of Ireland. International workers in the industry have to date mainly come from EU accession countries, with Polish workers the largest group comprising 39% of the total.

The high level of diversity in the sector poses unique challenges and opportunities to employers in their efforts to attract and retain international employees to meet business needs. Despite strong government support for diversity and inclusion, action on the ground in Ireland has been slow. The research found that the sector’s dependence on international workers is not matched by training strategies and support systems for employees. Respondents cite a ‘lack of resources’ for diversity and inclusion (D&I) measures and ‘lack of training in D&I’ as the main challenges.

The report, which was produced in conjunction with MDR Consulting and Equality Strategies, recommends employers provide support at all stages, from start-up and induction training to ongoing language and cultural integration activities in order to improve employee satisfaction and retention.

Bridie Corrigan Matthews, Head of Learning and Development at Taste4Success Skillnet, said: “As Ireland’s largest indigenous sector, agri-food is critically important. Increasing cultural diversity presents opportunities and challenges for all companies in the sector. This is particularly relevant given the sector’s dependence on international workers, a critical element in the performance of which is their integration into a ‘high performing multi-cultural/ multidimensional team environment’. As well as addressing training gaps, companies need to foster cultural integration.”

Speaking about the report, Paul Kelly, Director of Food Drink Ireland at Ibec and Network Promoter of Food Drink Ireland Skillnet said: “The research incorporates inputs from a wide range of agri-food processors representing large and small employers, in locations around the country and across the mix of sub-sectors. The fulfilling of the recommendations laid out in the report such as, the implementation of cultural diversity and training for management and supervisors at enterprise level and defining an agri-food sector diversity and inclusion strategy will support increased productivity and innovation in the sector.”

The report is the most current national research into cultural diversity in the agri-food sector in Ireland. Extensive primary research was undertaken, as well as representative interviews and focus groups, with most major employers in the sector contributing to the report.

Speaking about the research, Tracey Donnery, Executive Director, Skillnet Ireland said: “Operating at the coalface in partnership with 57 enterprise bodies gives Skillnet Ireland a unique perspective on the needs of businesses and workers. By supporting enterprise-led research, such as this collaboration by Taste4Success Skillnet, Food Drink Ireland Skillnet and Midland Border East Skillnet we are developing new sector-specific industry knowledge, as well as developing actionable insights and programmes. This research highlights that diversity in the workplace is an asset for both businesses and their employees, and it enables the capacity to foster innovation and drive business growth.

Skillnet Ireland provides funding to a number of Networks each year to conduct research under the Future Skills Programme. The research looks at trends and helps to identify future skills gaps/upskilling requirements in particular sectors or regions.

Read the full research report here.

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