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The demand for Talent in Food and Beverage Manufacturing

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By Mark Wilson

The food and drink sector is the largest within the Manufacturing industry, boasting a turnover of over £100 billion per annum. But although productivity has grown by 11 percent in the past five years, the skills gap threatens continued competitiveness. In this series, I examine the state of skill shortages within the sector and show employers what they can do to narrow the gap.

Has the industry outgrown skills?

There’s no denying that the food manufacturing sector has grown substantially over the years, which is excellent news for our economy. However, from a labour perspective, employers are struggling to find individuals with the skills to meet the demand in the market.

According to research by The Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the industry has a turnover of over £100 bn, employing approximately 400,000 people.

In recent years, food and drink manufacturing has been both an exporting and a productivity success story. Productivity in food and drink has grown by 11 per cent in the last five years, compared to 0.5 per cent across the whole economy, but the skills gap threatens continued competitiveness. The need to close the sector’s skills gap has never been more urgent with the UK’s decision to exit the European Union.

With a third of the workforce predicted to retire by 2024, employers across the UK will need 130,000 new recruits to meet the demand for skills within the sector, caused by an ageing workforce, talent shortages, STEM skills gaps and historically low apprentice numbers.

Engineers, technicians, food scientists and technologists are in demand as organisations strive for the competitive edge. Innovation, leadership and customer management, as well as product development and packing technology are high on the agenda to keep up with the ever-changing retail environment and shifting consumer values.

Where education meets employment

Although apprentices within the Food and Drink Manufacturing sector are highly qualified, current numbers are low at less than 1 percent of the industry workforce. For this reason, there is the intention to increase the number of apprentices by one third and fully utilise the Apprenticeship Levy.

With a shortage of STEM graduates in the UK, the industry must engage further with schools, colleges and universities. The Degree Apprenticeship Food Industry Partnership (DAFIP) brings study and paid work together, teaching the high-tech and managerial level skills needed.

Earlier this year, Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM) secured a share of the Government’s £4.5 million Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund to help ensure the sector has the relevant degree and higher apprenticeships in place.

Food industry employees who are also part-time learners experience a range of challenges, often balancing family commitments along with their professional and academic endeavours. To meet these needs, NCFM has developed a range of apprenticeships and higher education programmes which are underpinned by flexible study options.

One example is the Food Industry Technical Professional Degree Apprenticeship - a four-year programme which embeds a BSc (Hons) Food Science and Technology degree alongside a structured work-based training programme. This combination provides an attractive career path for individuals wishing to progress into technical professional roles including Assistant Food Technical Managers, Quality Managers, Shift Quality Managers, Hygiene Managers, Product Innovation and Development Technologists. Ensuring the safety and quality of food products is at the core of this Degree Apprenticeship.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and many leading food businesses, including Nestle, 2 Sisters Food Group, Princes and Moy Park, are directly supporting the development of NCFM’s Degree Apprenticeship programmes.

Change is inevitable, so best get with the program!

The industry is undoubtedly changing as the living wage and increases in costs fuel the need for advanced technologies which in turn require ready access to higher level skills. An acute shortage of these skills is already presenting a significant challenge to the sector so attracting new talent and upskilling existing workforces is absolutely crucial.

Although there has been a greater focus on apprenticeships – by both employers and the government – there is still much work that needs to be done in terms of changing perceptions regarding education and how it impacts professional development. Young people are still not getting up-to-date careers advice from schools, and unfortunately many teachers and parents are still pushing the traditional A-level and university route as the only way to gain a successful career.

Given how new legislation calls for schools and universities to give equal airtime to apprenticeship providers and colleges, one must maintain optimism that both grassroots and higher education institutions will provide full and balanced careers advice programmes going forward.

About the Author

Mark Wilson is a Managing Consultant within Search's Engineering and Manufacturing Recruitment division operating across the Northwest. Throughout his extensive years of experience, he has developed a strong passion for the industry while establishing and maintaining long-term business relationships. This has given him a thorough understanding of how emerging trends continue to have an impact on the engineering and manufacturing sector.

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