Horse sector faces labour crisis
The thoroughbred industry is struggling to fill job vacancies, writes Siobhan English
WITH more young people leaving school and heading straight to college, the thoroughbred and sport horse industries are finding it increasingly difficult to find enthusiastic staff to join the pay roll.
Each week, there are dozens of good jobs advertised in the national press, yet the vacancies are hard to fill.
School-leavers are being encouraged to get a third-level qualification, and those graduating are opting for easier jobs both at home and abroad.
“There is going to be an even more serious staffing crisis in stud farms if we cannot encourage more young people to come on board,” says breeder Paul McGrath ( right).
A native of Clashmore in West Waterford, he has witnessed the issue first hand from his time managing a large private stud farm in the south of the country.
“We were fortunate in recent weeks to take on two young staff members and they are proving to be brilliant workers, but overall, there is a serious shortage out there.
“Unfortunately, so many are now going straight to college and after that, they just want nine-to-five jobs. We do not need people with degrees — we badly need those with common sense and who are willing to learn.
“There are some fantastic opportunities out there and the ITBA Next Generation Apprenticeship Scheme is one great way of getting into the business.”
Now just 26, Paul himself only got interested in horses at the age of 16, having come from a purely farming background.
“While still in school, I used to spend my weekends with wellknown breeder Frank Motherway.
After that, I studied agriculture in Kildalton College and, as the eldest son, was looking at a life in farming. We keep pedigree Charolais cattle,” he said.
“It was only when I did my placement with another breeder, Seamus Kennedy, www.itbang.ie and his sister Elizabeth that I decided this is what I wanted to do. Seamus had advised me to join the ITBA Next Generation which offered great support and encouragement.” Open to all, the ITBA Next Generation provides fantastic opportunities for young members in the form of education seminars, networking opportunities and visits to trainers’ yards and stud farms.
It was also around this time that Paul acquired his first broodmare, Nerissa, a daughter of Great Palm and from the same family as Folsom Blue, The Game Changer and Spirit Leader.
Since then, he has increased his herd with the addition of Uranna, formerly trained by Willie Mullins.
At the most recent sales in Fairyhouse, both Uranna and Nerissa produced foals that sold for €50,000 and €20,000 respectively. Uranna has [email protected] also produced a yearling filly by Shantou and she will most likely be retained by her breeder for racing.
With his mind firmly set in the thoroughbred industry, Paul applied for the ITBA Apprenticeship Scheme in 2010, but wasn’t successful. Instead, he completed the course at the Irish National Stud.
“I know myself I did not have enough experience to get the apprenticeship at the time, but it has since proven to be a wonderful stepping stone for a lot of young people.”
In recent years, Paul has also worked with Jim Bolger, from whom he gained immense experience in both the racing and breeding side of the industry.
In time, Paul would love to branch out on his own, but for now, he is content in his current role as a stud manager closer to home.
“I have been lucky in that I have worked with some great people and the guidance I have received from past and present employers has been invaluable.
“I have also had great support from my family and hard work and determination have got me to where I am now. Down the road, I would love to run my own business,” he said.
There is a major shortage of young people entering the Irish horse breeding industry