Northern Ireland agri-food firms face recruitment problems
Almost half of Northern Ireland's agri-food businesses cannot recruit enough skilled staff, according to a recent consultation with food and drink firms.
Employers believe negative perceptions about the industry are partly to blame, saying misconceptions about low pay and repetitive work put people off.
Over half of school leavers are unaware of the range of job opportunities.
However, a new project is encouraging more young people to consider a career in the agri-food industry.
Invest NI has backed a two-year programme to enhance the sector's appeal.
The Harvesting Tomorrow's Skills project will work with schools, colleges and councils.
Agri-food firms in Northern Ireland traditionally have relied on EU migrant workers.
Spokesman Harry Hamilton said uncertainties around access to EU labour after Brexit meant the issue had to be addressed.
"Misconceptions about the sector such as low pay, poor conditions, production line and shift work are hurdles which must be overcome," he said.
"In reality, the industry offers an array of options, competitive salaries and career development opportunities."
The plan is to invest in extra training for those already in agri-food jobs and encourage schools and colleges to offer relevant training courses.
The consultation with the food and drink industry showed that 47% of firms could not recruit staff with the right skills.
Invest NI has offered £169,000 to the project which is being led by the Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association.
Food and drink businesses are the biggest manufacturing sector in Northern Ireland with annual sales of £4.5bn.