Mrs Sandra Overend
Ulster Unionist Party
Tabled Date: 11/01/2013
Answered On Date: 01/02/2013
Priority Written: No
To ask the Minister for Employment and Learning whether there is any provision for developing skills relevant to the Agri-Food industry in order to consolidate and grow this sector?
I fully recognise the importance of the Agri-Food sector to our economy. The Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (DARD) has the central authority under the Agriculture Act (1949) to provide formal education and training for the agricultural sector. However, to add value and provide support I have identified the food and drink manufacturing and processing sub sector as one of a number of priority industries for employment and skills provision.
Employers are concerned about a perceived shortage of food technologists and engineers and the need to increase the management and leadership skills within the industry. In June 2012 I launched a Skills Action Plan, which outlines how these challenges will be addressed by the department, employers, education providers, Improve (the Sector Skills Council) and colleagues in DARD and Invest NI working together, in a coordinated manner. I have placed a copy of the Plan in the Assembly Library and it is also available on my department’s website at http://www.delni.gov.uk/. A number of actions within the plan have already been taken forward.
I met recently with the Agri-Food Strategy Board and although its initial report is not yet published, it is likely that the skills and capability of the workforce will form a major strand of its work and I envisage the actions contained in the Action Plan will make a major contribution to this
Finally, it is also important to note that in addition to the training provision offered by government departments, the sector also benefits from provision at the three campuses of the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise and at both Queen’s University and the University of Ulster. Work is ongoing with all of these institutions to ensure that they continue to work closely with industry to meet their requirements.