Community Resilience

How ABP turned an obstacle into an opportunity to inspire and develop young people

This case study demonstrates how employers and the education sector can work in partnership to offer work inspiration & skills development to teenagers during the Covid-19 pandemic.

ABP Northern Ireland is a red meat processing business focused on beef and lamb and is part of ABP Food Group. In NI, operations consist of processing facilities in Lurgan and Newry. More recently, the Linden Foods and Kettyle Irish Foods businesses in Dungannon and Fermanagh are now part of the ABP Food Group.

The ABP Angus Youth Challenge has been running for four years. Over the course of an 18-month competitive programme, it offers successful teenagers a unique opportunity to experience the dynamics of the beef industry from farm-gate to plate; interact with ABP employees and find out about ABP’s circular economy business model. ABP’s aims are to open young minds to the variety of employment opportunities in agri-food; encourage an informed and fact-based view on beef consumption as part of a young person’s balanced diet; and shine a positive spotlight on sustainable practices in Northern Irish beef farming within the context of climate action. It does this by setting research assignments to teams that reach the final stage, along-side having to rear their own mini-herd of Angus cross calves awarded to them by ABP. Finalists are provided support from a College of Agriculture, Food and Rural Enterprise (CAFRE) beef advisor as mentor and ABP’s Blade Farming co-ordinator.

Pictured Entrants at the 2021 ABP Angus Youth Challenge chat with one of the competition judges, Joe McDonald, of ASDA NI.

Mitigations as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic were already in place during 2020 which included online training and events. The continued disruption and pressures experienced by schools led to a further review of the competition before opening it to new entries in September 2021.

What ABP did

ABP, in association with the NI Angus Producer Group wanted to ensure that teenagers could continue to benefit from the practical and soft skills development opportunities without adding any additional pressures to an already stretched education system.

ABP consulted with past-participating teachers and CAFRE to re-work the format so that it would fit more seamlessly within the Yr. 11 GCSE curriculum; align with GCSE coursework across a range of subjects and have minimal disruption to the school timetable. The finalist programme which includes winning and rearing their own calves through to sale to ABP, was also rescheduled into a shorter timeframe.

The new format opened for entries in September 2021. A communications plan was devised to re-launch the competition to key audiences in order to ensure they were aware of and understood the modifications. Key messages and digital content was developed and tailored for specific audience groups. New promotional materials included a poster for school/club noticeboards and a simple pupil-friendly leaflet. Dedicated teacher and student webpages were created and a social media campaign was active during the entry period to appeal to specific audience segments.

Education stakeholders were requested to lend support to the launch campaign. This included assistance from Business & the Community’s Education & Jobs team and availing of their channels for communicating with careers teachers. CCEA also emailed opt-in teachers of secondary schools and shared social content. CAFRE’s schools’ outreach also lent its support.

The first live exhibition in two years was held at Balmoral Park in 2021 under Covid-19 protocols. Recognising that young people had missed out on so much during the previous 18 months, ABP brought all entrants forward to be judged at the exhibition. To help inspire them, an awards ceremony took place for the outgoing Class of 2020 before the exhibition commenced. The Minister for Education, Michelle McIlveen MLA attended as Guest of Honour for both parts of the event.

There were five outgoing teams from the Class of 2020 up for Awards, as opposed to the usual four. This included a team of pupils with learning difficulties from Castle Tower School, Ballymena. This team reared their calves on their teacher’s farm who is also an Angus beef farmer.

Impacts and Outcomes

“The ABP Angus Youth Challenge is a wonderful example of school / employer engagement and activity. It demonstrates a shared interest in, and shared responsibility for, the future of the young people involved. Through collaboration there is a mutual benefit for both the young people and for employers who share their expertise with the future workforce. I have no doubt that the ABP Angus Youth Challenge has and will continue to enhance the learning experiences and employability skills of the young people involved.” Michelle McIlveen MLA, NI Education Minister

  • Entry level in 2021 has returned to pre-pandemic levels and is up over 50% on 2020.
  • 30% of all finalists who have completed the ABP Angus Youth Challenge so far are now actively attending an agriculture-related course at CAFRE Greenmount or Loughry Campus *source – recruitment advisor CAFRE
  • The teacher at Castle Tower has instigated accredited Lantra training for Castle Tower pupils so that pupils ‘can now leave school with a real qualification’
  • Positive endorsements on social media by industry and education stakeholders who judged 2021 entrants

Facebook page snap-shot of analytics for Sept-Nov Q. 2021 v. previous Q:

  • 1K people were reached up 110%
  • 443% increase net followers on Facebook
  • 186% increase in engagement

For month of Oct v previous month:

  • Likes up 127%
  • Post Engagement up 207%
  • Video Engagement up 168%

Video of interview with NI Minister for Education:

ABPAngusYouthExhibition 2021_01.mov from ABP ANGUS YOUTH CHALLENGE on Vimeo.