UCC, in conjunction with Skillsnet, plans to run a ‘Rejuvenate’ course in September, aiming to help women get back to work in the food and agri-food sector after a career break.

Devised by food training experts, the programme will be delivered to small groups. The core eligibility criteria focuses on women, returning to the world of work after career breaks, with previous professional experience in the agri-food sector or a strong desire to return to the sector.

“We are planning a mix of core employability skills – CV, LinkedIn and interview preparation – alongside some confidence building and career planning,” said Dr. Joanne Fearon, programme manager.

“The final element will be agri-food specific topics and trends, to bring returning women right up to speed with what is happening in this fast-paced sector in 2019.”

The core programme will be nine days over three weeks in September, with school-friendly hours. This will be followed up by a bespoke work experience programme.

“We have decided to run it in the Workbench space in Bank of Ireland, Patrick Street, here in Cork, using its community space to make it accessible to as many as possible,” said Joanne.

Need to embrace diversity

In June 2018, a meeting of agri-business professionals in Naas heard that the Irish agri-food industry needed to embrace diversity, particularly at board level.

The panel discussion was organised by Ceres, the new women in agri-food leadership network. It aims to inspire another generation of role models within the industry.

The key recommendation from the event was the need for the agri-industry to continue to work collaboratively to address the issue of “unconscious bias” to maintain a competitive advantage.

Employers are continually looking to hire staff that are work-ready in terms of experience and are appropriately qualified, the update on future skills needs in the food and drink sector, published in April 2017, found.

“This is the first course – that we are aware of – of its type. A similar course has run for the IT sector. As a young industry, albeit one that is even more significantly male dominated, IT has a related but different set of challenges to women returning to the food sector,” Joanne said.

“The ‘Rejuvenate’ programme was born out of my long interest in gender in food and agri-food for young graduates,” she said.

Academically, women outperform men significantly but they fail to progress up the career paths in Irish food companies at anything like the rate of their male colleagues.

“Taste4Success saw potential in the idea of supporting women who are a few years further on in their careers than the graduates I usually work with and ‘Rejuvenate’ was born to bring our graduate expertise to a more mature audience.”