University College Cork (UCC) is leading the Irish contribution to the European Commission’s Erasmus+ programme’s €4 million investment to support the establishment of an international dairy centre of vocational excellence.

At a time when the dairy sector is facing significant challenges, UCC has been selected as the location for one of nine regional centres of vocational excellence.

The initiative aims to develop a talent pipeline for the dairy sector to secure a sustainable and profitable industry for the future. The dairy sector is one of only 13 sectors to be selected for this investment.

Dairy CoVE

The Dairy CoVE (Centres of Vocational Excellence) project is led by the Association of European Dairy Industry Learning (AEDIL) and has 48 partners from Ireland; Denmark; Germany; France; the Netherlands; Poland; Romania; Serbia; and Turkey.

The dairy CoVE will foster dairy competitiveness through a smart specialisation strategy for lifelong upskilling of existing employees, potential future recruits to the sector and teachers, by strengthening collaboration between these learning stakeholders.

A key ambition is to develop industry-informed, impactful, sustainable programmes for vocational, lifelong and work-based learning to meet the needs of the current and future dairy professional.

The nine regional centres of vocational excellence, including the one at UCC, will co-ordinate in contributing to a transnational European dairy learning hub, which Prof. Seamus O’Mahony from UCC will lead.

Underpinning the training will be a dairy academy, led by Prof. Alan Kelly, also from UCC, which will bring together stakeholders from the dairy industry, dairy researchers and dairy teachers to collaborate, learn from each other and share best practices to ensure that the dairy sector is ready to tackle ongoing sustainability, digitalisation and talent attraction and development challenges.

The Irish CoVE

The Irish dairy CoVE will bring educators and industry representatives, with a shared focus on talent development, to develop a programme of integrated training blocks to meet identified needs and gaps.

Prof. Alan Kelly, School of Food and Nutritional Sciences, pictured at UCC. Image source: Clare Keogh

The Irish CoVE will be led by Dr. Joanne Uí Chrualaoich of UCC who will work with partners in Carbery Food Ingredients, Munster Technological University, Cork Educate Together Board, Teagasc Education, the Society of Dairy Technology and the dairy industry in Ireland to develop the four-year programme.

Dr. Uí Chrualaoich said that the attraction, training and retention of dairy professionals has been an ongoing challenge for the international dairy community.

“The centre of vocational excellence will address this challenge through a targeted range of practical training and development activities. As the number one university in Ireland for dairy science, with a 95 year history of educating and training dairy industry professionals, we are excited to work collaboratively at a national and international level to realise these ambitions,” she said.

“Dairy is a key sector for the Irish economy but faces considerable challenges. We are happy to bring together this consortium of educators to support the Irish dairy industry in rising to the challenges.”

Joao Santos, senior expert at the European Commission, said that to modernise European vocational education and training, collaborative partnerships that build on both local as well as international expertise, are more important than ever.

“VET (vocational education and training) systems must become more resilient and responsive to disruptive change and rapidly changing social and economic conditions, as well as provide people with skills to confidently navigate the green and digital transition,” said the European Commission senior expert.

“The European Commission has selected this project on vocational excellence in the dairy sector, as one of the most promising initiatives to attract talent, to develop innovative learner centred teaching and learning materials and methodologies, and ultimately to contribute to the competitiveness and innovation in the dairy industry.

“Ensuring that both young people and adults are empowered with the skills for fulfilling lives and quality jobs, is a top priority of the European Commission.”

Anne-Sofi Christiansen, president of AEDIL, said that with 30 years of international partnership, and bringing together a diverse range of skills, qualifications and experience, AEDIL is delighted to be co-ordinating this innovative dairy centre of vocational excellence to deliver success in vocational, work-based and lifelong dairy learning for Europe.

“This initiative builds on our previous success with Erasmus+ where we established an evidence driven characterisation of the skills needs and gaps for the dairy sector,” she said.

“This groundwork gives us great confidence that the CoVE is tackling the right challenges for a modern dairy sector meeting local and international needs using our innovative working together approach.

“I feel confident that the present project will both strengthen the collaborative work and the networking among our members, and will significantly boost dairy education and consequently the dairy industry in Europe. We hope to serve as inspiration for other sectors,” she said.