Agri-food employers get a taste of talent among future industry leaders

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Key employers from the Northern Ireland agri-food industry attended a unique networking event at Queen’s University Belfast recently to meet Agriculture and Food Science students poised to be the next generation of employees.

Companies including ABP, Cranswick Foods, Dale Farm, Deli-lites, Devenish Nutrition, Diageo, Dunbia, Finnebrogue, Kerry, Mash Direct, Moy Park, Thompsons and Wilson’s Country, among others, attended the lively event – which featured a speed-networking session, modelled around speed-dating – at Riddel Hall.

Research, government, trade and lobby organisations such as AFBI, DAERA, Northern Ireland Food and Drink and the Ulster Farmers’ Union were also in attendance, as were over 200 students. The event was organised by Queen’s School of Biological Sciences and the Institute for Global Food Security (IGFS).

The aim was two-fold: to develop student awareness of career opportunities within the sector, and for companies to promote work placement and graduate opportunities.

John Harrison, NI Broiler Manager at Moy Park said the event had been a big success. He said: “We saw it as a great opportunity to speak to young people who will become future industry leaders in food production and a unique chance to promote a career in the food industry in Moy Park.”

Training Manager at Dunbia, Glenn Patterson, said the level of enthusiasm among undergraduates was heartening. He added: “It was beneficial to discuss placement opportunities, graduate schemes and the students’ expectations, as they begin to focus on their careers post-college. It was interesting to see how much research the students had undertaken about the company before attending, our graduate scheme and what is happening in the industry at present.”

BSc Food, Quality, Safety and Nutrition undergraduate, Aine Loughran said the day had been fun and informative. She commented: “I thought the speed networking was a great way to put some friendly faces to the food companies and get a better insight as to what specifically they were looking for on a CV and in interviews.”

A Dragon’s Den-style poster competition, which was assessed as part of MSc students’ coursework, gave Masters students the opportunity to pitch their research ideas to an audience of industry and academic experts.

There was also a number of high-level presentations, including by Stephane Durand, manager of Agri-Food Quest – a collaboration between researchers at IGFS, AFBI and Ulster University and over 30 local agri-food companies, funded by Invest NI.

Queen’s Student Guidance Centre helps companies large and small recruit students on an all-year-round basis, not only from the Agriculture and Food Science sector, but from across the University, including IT, Management, Finance and Business. Queen’s is also the Number 1 university in the UK for KTPs.