Food Heartland inspiring next generation during careers event

Barry Smyth SRC, Lord Mayor Garath Keating and Simon Dougan MBE of the Yellow Door Deli
Barry Smyth SRC, Lord Mayor Garath Keating and Simon Dougan MBE of the Yellow Door Deli

More than 400 school children from Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon borough are taking part in a careers showcase hosted by the Food Heartland. Mayes Hall, Craigavon Civic Centre.

Today (Thursday January 26) will be the last of the three-day event that will show Year 10 students the variety of roles working with food and drink in the agri-food, tourism and hospitality sectors and encourage them to seriously consider a career in the industries.

Students will be tasked with sourcing, producing and marketing a product. There will be a mock supermarket, mobile kitchen and cookery demos from award winning chefs as well as industry professionals from a wide range of sectors on hand for advice.

It’s in response to a call from chefs involved in the Food Heartland Hospitality Forum, established last year, that the industry is crying out for new, quality talent.

The event is running in conjunction with Young Enterprise NI and Southern Regional College, where Barry Smyth is a lecturer in hospitality: “We’ve had a 20% drop in students applying for catering courses over the past two years, which is going to seriously impact the hospitality sectors.

“We want to show young people there are plenty of jobs in agri-food and hospitality that don’t just involve being a farmer, a waiter or chef. There is food production, accountancy and marketing roles so we need to engage kids early on to help them make choices for their futures at events like this.”

Simon Dougan MBE is owner of Yellow Door Deli and part of the Food Heartland forums. He’s helped organise the three-day event: “We wanted to make it as interactive and engaging as possible so we are really giving the students a taste of what it’s like to work in food industries.

“They’ll have hands on activities to develop a food product, source local ingredients and work out costings, design packaging and bring the product to market. It’s hard as a business owner to grow if there aren’t students coming through, so we’re often forced to train staff on the job. Events like today not only show kids what opportunities there are for them, but how to get there.”

Lord Mayor of Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough, Cllr Garath Keating said: “We have here a Food Heartland bursting with fantastic flavours, freshness and unrivalled produce and we want to encourage the next generation of that success story.

“This borough is the region’s biggest and best area for quality agri-food production. In order to continue to grow that reputation we need to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to that sector.”