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Inspirational agri-food careers talk at Harper Ireland dinner

Posted 11 February 2014

"The food sector is one of few where there are no glass ceilings. If you are good and you have enthusiasm and the will to get on, there is no stopping you.”

Guest speaker Tony O'Neill with outgoing chairman, and host for the evening, David Thornton.

See slideshow of images below

Students from throughout Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland united for their annual dinner on Friday night (February 7th) to celebrate yet another successful year at Harper Adams University, in England. 

The Harper Ireland student society welcomed special guest Tony O’Neill, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Agri-food Strategy Board, who proved a highly inspirational after-dinner speaker

Tony O’Neill had made his first visit to the Harper Adams campus earlier that day. A visit which, he said, was long overdue as he has been associated with the university for many years, mainly through the Harper Adams in Ireland society for former students. 

He was addressing dinner guests as Chairman of the Northern Ireland Agri-Food Strategy Board, but made strong references to poultry giant Moy Park, where he is Convenience Food and New Business Director, and which supports Harper Adams students through the British Poultry Council scholarships, and by providing placement year employment. 

Mr O’Neill said “We have been fighting to get more investment in food and farming in the UK. And only now are we getting recognition for what we do – now that people are only too aware of the importance of having a long-term sustainable supply of food. 

 “Within the food sector we have every career you could possibly think of – accounting, sales, marketing, technologists, engineers and food scientists - rocket scientists as far as I am concerned because we have people researching problems many of us aren’t even aware of yet! Our systems are computer controlled and we need smarter and smarter engineers. We can’t get enough of them. 

“We need more qualified, highly-skilled people than we ever did in the past. We need more and more food technologists. There are lots of people who go to university nowadays and do courses so they can tell us what to eat. But we need people to go to university to learn how to make the stuff that we eat – not to tell us not to eat it!

“These are all long-term opportunities. The food sector is one of few where there are no glass ceilings. If you are good and you have enthusiasm and the will to get on, there is no stopping you.”

Mr O’Neill stressed the importance of the agri-food sector working closely with universities to make sure graduates have the right skills to fulfil industry’s needs. 

“I have been every impressed with what I have seen at Harper Adams today, and I am not easily impressed. It has a nice atmosphere and sense of community and you have clearly made a good investment. I wish you well,” he told the students. 

Harper Adams Vice-Chancellor Dr David Llewellyn had welcomed Mr O’Neill and guests, including schools’ careers advisors, industry representatives and a political advisor specialising in agriculture, to the Shropshire campus on Friday morning.

Dr Llewellyn outlined research and developments taking place at the Harper Adams campus, including the Agricultural Engineering Innovation Centre, where precision farming equipment is being studied and the recent launch of both the Centre for Integrated Pest Management and the Soil and Water Management Centre – the latter paying close attention to valuable natural resources we need to grow food. 

All of this is tied back into curriculum, Dr Llewellyn explained, and combined with the work-placement year every student completes, provides graduates with an ideal combination of knowledge and experience. 

Dr Llewellyn welcomed Mr O’Neill’s speech and explained that it echoed the presentation he had given, “The workforce of the future” at the Sentry farming conference just two days earlier. 

With the dinner and speeches concluded, it was time for 2013/14 society chairman David Thornton, 20, from Maganey, County Kildare to hand over the reins to new chairman Adam Patterson, 19, from Crumlin, Country Antrim. 

A series of prizes were awarded. The Chairman’s Cup was presented by David Thornton to Adam Patterson. Harper Ireland President, Dr Llewellyn, awarded the President’s Prize to Michael Murphy, 21, from County Derry. 

David Thornton also awarded two scholarships, funded by the club using money raised at the 2013 Paddy’s Ball, to Anthony Robb, 22, from Lifford, County Donegal, and David Boyd, 22, from Ballymena, County Antrim.  

In its inaugural year, the new Gaelic Football Award, kindly donated by Harper Adams in Ireland, was presented to Fergus Corrigan, 21, from Beckenham, Kent, one of the non-Irish students introduced to the game, who was chosen as the player of the year. 

The society gave its thanks to everyone who attended the dinner and who had made the year so successful. Now the focus moves to Paddy’s Ball, one of the busiest social events on the Harper Adams calendar, organised by Harper Ireland. 

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