A course which aims to train jobseekers and people in receipt of Farm Assist payments to become dairy operatives is to begin in September, according to the Department of Social Protection.

An analysis of labour market needs for the local dairy sector was carried out by the South East Regional Skills Forum.

Following this analysis, the department is currently working with Teagasc, the Irish Farmers’ Association (IFA), and Farm Relief Services (FRS) to highlight potential employment opportunities within the sector to jobseekers located in counties Waterford and Kilkenny.

A 4-week pilot training course, which is due to begin in September on a part-time basis, has been developed to provide interested jobseekers with the necessary skills to be in a position to be employed as dairy operatives.

The department is currently contacting jobseekers in the region to invite them to learn more about this course and opportunities within the dairy sector.

Jobseekers who participate in this part-time training course will retain their usual social welfare payment during the course, under the Part-Time Education Option scheme rules, the department confirmed.

“It is important to state clearly that all jobseekers who obtain employment subsequent to this or any other such training course will be subject to the same conditions as all other jobseekers.

“The usual means tests rules and scheme conditions will apply. Social welfare entitlements are dependent on the precise circumstances and/or means of the individual applicant.

“Jobseekers who take up part-time work may retain a portion of their jobseeker’s payment subject to some conditions,” the department added.

‘More measures are needed to address labour shortages’

Meanwhile, while news of this scheme has been welcomed, more measures are needed to address the labour shortages issue in the sector, according to the IFA’s National Dairy Chairman, Sean O’Leary.

The IFA believes that the scheme currently being piloted in the southeast has the potential to be rolled out to other agricultural sectors, where labour shortages are also an issue.

However, providing work permits for qualified workers will also be part of addressing the issue, it added.

O’Leary said: “The scheme will ensure suitable applicants receive some basic training as dairy operatives, especially in the area of milking.

“Teagasc, FRS, the IFA and the Department of Social Protection have all committed to encouraging possible candidates to come forward for training.

“Training takes place over four weeks, the bulk of which is on-farm placements, with four days in Kildalton Agricultural College. Successful applicants, after completing the training, may be employed by FRS or by farmers directly.

There is real potential here for people who need to top up their incomes, through attractive part or full-time employment, and to even start a promising career in the vibrant Irish dairy sector.

“Social welfare recipients may, in certain circumstances, be able to work up to a certain number of hours per week without losing all of their benefits; but this will depend on their individual situation, and will have to be checked with the department,” he concluded.