Students graduating from the College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise at Loughry Campus today are entering a growing industry at an exciting time.
They are the first of CAFRE’s graduations this year and will be followed by Enniskillen and Greenmount campuses next week.
The agri-food sector supports one out of every five jobs in the private sector, employing 92,000 people, while our food and drinks processors buy 90% of the local agricultural produce.
After the global economic downturn of 2007 the industry increased its turnover by £429m to over £3.2bn in 2009 and onwards to £3.7bn in 2010.
Earlier this year, the Northern Ireland Food & Drinks Association launched its strategy, ‘An Appetite for Growth’, which identified the potential for a further 15,000 new jobs by 2020 — good news for today’s graduates.
Ian Titterington, deputy director and head of Loughry Campus, said: “I believe that many of the key roles could and should be filled by Loughry graduates who will cross this stage today and in the years to come.
“They are well equipped with up-to-date technical and business knowledge and the practical skills which employers require. Their fresh, enthusiastic outlook and adaptability can help make the NIFDA vision a reality.
“Clearly the food processing sector is going to need a substantial number of skilled young people ... to realise the potential for growth. Throughout its 100-year history, Loughry has continuously evolved to meet industry needs.”
At Loughry enrolment on full-time food courses has increased from around 40 per year to 353 students — the highest enrolment ever achieved.
Mr Titterington said: “The prospects for next year are even better with record numbers of applications for all our food programmes — more than 50% higher than in June 2011.\[w.mcclelland\] From next year onwards even more graduates and diplomates will be crossing this stage
“The news is equally pleasing when we see how many of our graduates are either securing appropriate employment or progressing onto higher education in a relevant discipline. Of the 18 students graduating today with BSc (Hons), 11 had already secured employment by mid-June, 14 of the 15 foundation degree graduates are progressing to an honours degree programme.
“Clearly the agri-food sector is weathering the economic downturn better than most. Not satisfied with their success to date, the industry leaders have a vision for the future and are articulating this effectively to Government, stakeholders and the community. They recognise they will require many more high calibre young people to realise this vision.
“However, the graduands will be the best ambassadors for the industry and Loughry and we look to you to spread the message.”