‘Labour availability is now a critical issue within agri-food’

The Irish food and drink industry needs to attract and retain skilled workers and address labour shortages, according to Food Drink Ireland (FDI).

The Ibec group, which represents the food and drink sector, highlighted the labour issue in its quarterly Business Monitor, published earlier today (Tuesday, December 11).

Paul Kelly, director of FDI, said: “Labour availability is now a critical issue within agri-food.

Many food processors are facing a serious challenge in securing the necessary labour resources at general operative level.

The director added that, despite ongoing significant efforts to recruit from the Irish and European labour force, the critical nature of the current situation is deepening as the economy once again approaches full employment.

“The situation has now deteriorated to levels where it is having a real impact at individual factory level and negatively impacting the ability of companies to plan for expansion and indeed to meet day-to-day operational demands to service existing customers.

Government must urgently extend the employment permit schemes across the food processing sector so that labour shortages do not impact on existing business and growth prospects.

“There is a need to ensure the skills base of existing employees reflects not just the current business demands but the challenges of future growth in existing and new markets.”

Kelly added that food and drink companies spent €21 million on formal training in 2016 – which is the highest amount of any manufacturing sector.

“A welcome development has been increased funding supports for enterprise-led training initiatives including Skillnets and industrial apprenticeships.

“There now needs to be a focus on apprenticeships and upskilling to address the lack of technical operators for a fast-growing indigenous industry that is spread across the country”.

Other key trends from the FDI business monitor include food prices, retail sales and consumer sentiment, employment, sterling exchange rate, energy prices and food commodity indices.

The report found that food prices have continued to fall, decreasing by 2.2% in the year to October.

Meanwhile, food retail sales and values experiencing almost like-for-like growth, while employment levels continue to increase – and increased by 3% in the third quarter of 2018 compared with the same period in 2017.

Sterling has been relatively stable in recent months, albeit weak, the report found at the time of writing.

Meanwhile, electricity prices increased by 7.1% in the year to July.

Prices of world food commodities decreased by 7.4% in October 2018 compared with the same period in 2017, according to the Business Monitor.