Archive for August, 2001

Irish Farmers Journal: The employee of the future

Saturday, August 18th, 2001

Irish Farmers Journal

By Thomas Hubert

Peter Byrne, manager of Farm Relief Services, thinks that farm workers will have to be specialists with adequate training in the coming years.

With farms getting always bigger, farmers will be less numerous but more likely to hire employees. “The number of units of labour in agriculture will drop, but the proportion of employees and contractors will rise,” he says.

However, we are no longer talking about manual, unqualified workers. He thinks the typical farm employee in a couple of years will be someone with farming qualification – for example, a part-time farmer or someone who had to sell a small farm – and specific additional skills.

These skills will be acquired and certificated through training programmes such as those offered by FRS and certified by the National Council for Vocational Awards. “Health and safety are going to be big issues,” says Mr Byrne. There are too many accidents on Irish farms and farmers will no longer hire an employee unless they are sure he or she can perform the task safely,” he says.

The trend is towards specialists owning their own equipment and contracting with farmers for a specific job. “There is little point in a farmer owning the machinery and tractors if he is dependent on hiring in drivers – it will be more attractive to contract the job to a person with the equipment and the expertise to carry out the task,” says Mr Byrne.

However, there will also be opportunities on the management side. Owners will be looking for people who can run the farm as an enterprise, possibly on the basis of a profit-sharing arrangement.

Mr Byrne’s outlook for the future of farm employment is “very positive”. “It is attractive and will be more attractive in the future,” he says. Jobs will become more interesting and farmers tend to treat the labour force better and better. “It is so much better than standing at a production line in a factory!” he says.

Richard Rea, agricultural consultant, says his future employees will need to be “50 per cent farming, 50 per cent business and a bit of law”.

Their ideal qualification would be an agricultural degree with two years of experience. People who have already worked for a couple of years in the public sector have the level of confidence and the knowledge of the law, the banking system, etc. that are necessary to begin a career in agricultural consulting, he says.

According to Mr Rea, a lot of jobs will involve compensations assessment for road works and environmental impact studies over the next years. But the most interesting job will be helping farmers to set up on-farm part-time businesses.

“There are two categories of part-time farmers,” says Mr Rea, “those whose farm income is too low, and those who are very successful and want more challenging experiences”. He believes the latter will have more and more money to invest in businesses such as hotels or catering facilities and will need advice from consultants to do so.

Mr Rea thinks most of the opportunities will be located in the West. “Farmers there are already accustomed to off-farm jobs, they are more adventurous,” he says. On the contrary, he thinks farmers in the South and East often see off-farm activity as a failure and are not so keen on new developments.

His prospect for the consulting sector is stability. When he started working in 1974, there were 7 consultants employing less than 20 people nationwide. There are now 80 consultants and 250 to 300 people in this business, plus competition from Teagasc, which is “heavily subsidised”. He thus does not expect his trade to grow as fast as it did over the last 25 years.

Dr Noel Cawley, chief executive of the Irish Dairy Board, puts a lot of confidence in third-level education.

According to him, any graduate, whatever the course, can start a career in agri-business. “You can do anything after that, it is a complete training in itself,” says Dr Cawley.

He remarks that as people retire earlier, the face of employment in his sector changes quickly. As a result, young graduates are more and more likely to access challenging jobs, even top management positions. “There are opportunities everywhere,” he says.

More specifically, Dr Cawley encourages people interested in a career in agri-business to study basic sciences such as maths and physics. “There will be a significant shortage of people with science degrees,” he says.

His piece of advice to students: “Get as much training as possible in college; if possible, get a post-primary degree.”