6 skills graduates need to work in the food and drink sector

The Food and Drink sector is growing and thriving with new opportunities for graduates developing all the time. However, as Hannah Kelly explains, a new report has highlighted skill gaps graduates will need to fill if they are to be successful in the industry.

The recently released Food Wise 2025,a report compiled by the Department of Agriculture & Food, sets out a plan for the development of the agri-food industry over the next decade, said they expect to see a further 23,000 jobs created, including the creation of additional graduate programmes, over the next ten years in the Irish Food and Beverage Sector.

“The Food and Drink sector has grown strongly over the period from 2010 to 2016 and has recovered”, the report said. “Employment in the sector increased to 54,000 in 2016, an increase of 6,600 from 2009.”

To achieve further growth though, it was stressed that gaps in skills required for the sector need to be addressed. Graduates eager to work in this sector should aim to focus on developing skills in the following areas that the report highlighted:

  1. Think internationally: Develop your knowledge of, and skills in, international trade and logistics. Companies also place a high emphasis on language and multi-cultural skills. More specifically in this area you should work on developing experience in customer management, dealing with international customers and suppliers and supply management.
  2. Innovation: In particular, companies are looking for graduates with production development skills. More specifically the report identified gaps in portfolio management, packaging technology and design engineering. Talk to your careers advisor or look up companies who could help you bridge this skills gap.
  3. IT and Numeracy: Employers are looking for graduates with good numeracy and IT skills no matter what section of the company you’ll be in. These skills are particularly useful as companies seek to merge roles within their organisations through automated manufacturing procedures.
  4. Supply Chain Management: Focus on customer requirements and standards, managing money effectively and reducing inventory levels. These are all skills companies are looking for in potential employees no matter what part of the business you might be working in.
  5. Leadership: In the gradireland Graduate Salary and Graduate Recruitment Trends Survey, we found that 37.1% of employers identified lack of leadership hard skill shortfalls. Being able to demonstrate the potential to lead a team is important as both more strategic and engaged leadership is a skill gap identified in the industry.
  6. Financial and Commercial Acumen: As mentioned above, a lot of companies are moving towards less structured roles, with cross-functional teams and a broader variety of work the ever increasing norm. This means no matter where you are in the business; you’ll be expected to have good financial and commercial judgement.

For more information on different career sectors visit: https://gradireland.com/career-sectors


Employability: some short and sharp tips

At a recent careers event which focused on what ‘employability’ actually entails, gradireland gleaned the following key nuggets of information which may help you in the elusive quest to enhance your own ‘employability’, thereby giving you the edge in a competitive jobs market.

Keep this definition in mind: Qualifications + Experience + Skills x Contacts = Employability (Dr Paul Redmond, Director of Student Life, University of Manchester)

Most students are only at University for 1,000 days: You need to start learning, absorbing, connecting and growing from your first day and one of the things students need to know about from their first day is employability. This includes all the important extra-curricular activities that add into your all-round university experience.

By March of their final year, 50% of students have not made an application for a graduate job or for a postgraduate course. Much of this can be traced back to an anxiety about what’s the ‘right’ thing to do. Seeking careers guidance and careers information at an early stage in your undergraduate degree can be a massive advantage as it helps reduce this anxiety and give clarity around your best options.

Emerging trends in the workforce: Nowadays, companies are looking for inter-disciplinary teams “working at the intersections” ie where disciplines and skills interact. For example, a team might include data analysts, marketers, sales and project managers working together on a project launch or supply chain, computer programmers, product design and management consultants working on an app for a retailer.

Graduate recruiters are increasingly using internships for the early identification (and recruitment) of talent; and also students are using them in ‘road-testing’ sectors and/or employers.

Foreign languages are a major ‘trump card’ in the employability race especially in a multi-national, multi-cultural global economy where communication and cultural understanding is king.

The Employer’s view: According to a survey of 500 UK Directors, 64% said that when recruiting, graduates’ employability skills were more important to their firm than the specific occupational, technical or academic skills associated with a degree.

An example:

HSBC recruits 1500 graduates into 70 grad programmes globally each year, for which they receive 100,000 applications. 90% of these have a 2:1 or 2:2, thus meeting their minimum criteria for consideration. So it’s going to take something extra to stand out.

The advice is that a strong academic record is a prerequisite that gets you into the game but to keep playing, you need the employability edge; experiences gained inside and outside of study.

What do you need to show?

  • Communication skills (written, verbal, social).
  • Self-management (especially around learning either formal or informal).
  • Confidence Be a ‘digital native’ at home with all types of technology regardless of the role.

What are the traits that Irish graduates have that make us employable?

  • We are travellers, we are mobile, we are explorers and we are not afraid

  • We are inclusive, empathetic, good listeners and good communicators.

Embrace these traits and enhance your employability.