Few would-be food engineers are “willing to really roll up their sleeves” and engage with unskilled and semi-skilled operators, the boss of Nestlé in the UK and Ireland said.
In addition to lacking key interpersonal skills, many have little or no knowledge of the food industry, said Fiona Kendrick, chairman and chief executive of Nestlé in the UK and Ireland.
Kendrick was speaking yesterday (February 7) in Sheffield at the launch of the UK’s first accredited engineering degree for food and drink manufacturing.
Referring to an engineering skills survey carried out by the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink (NSAFD), Kendrick said: “When we went to talk to employers they said they’d found a lack of technical ability combined with commercial acumen.
“And frankly, few were willing to really roll up their sleeves and get really involved, particularly when working with unskilled and semi-skilled operators.”
She said she hoped the new master’s degree – which starts at Sheffield Hallam University in September 2014 – would help to “put this right”.
She told guests at the Mercure Sheffield St Paul’s Hotel that “now was the time to take collective action” to support and promote the new course, either by offering work placements, lectures or sponsorship.
“This is crucial issue when it comes to productivity, automation and plant reliability, which is so important. At Nestlé we have 15 very large manufacturing plants in the UK so we can see, and talk about, what we need and the talent we need to bring in.”
Kendrick spoke of the challenges Nestlé currently faced in recruiting high-calibre engineering graduates, because many lacked what she termed “employability” and “interpersonal skills”.
“At Nestlé we have a graduate assessment centre and we see a lot of graduates coming to us. They very often have high academic qualifications, a high IQ and great psychometric results, but somehow they lack that employability and those interpersonal skills that we believe to be absolutely essential.
“We also see the graduates have very little, or no knowledge of the food industry and are not aware of what food manufacturing might entail. It is just not on their radar screen.”
Premier Foods, Warburtons and Mars
A key feature of the degree is guaranteed work placements at food and drink companies which will provide students with much sought after employment skills and experience.
Companies on board so far are: ABF, apetito, Arla Foods, Burton’s Biscuit Company, Cargill, Dalehead Foods, Finsbury Foods, General Mills, Mars, McCains Foods, Mondelēz International, Nestlé UK, Pork Farms, Premier Foods, United Biscuits, Warburtons and the William Jackson Food Group.
The event also heard from food and farming minister David Heath who said: “It’s vitally important that the industry is able to attract new talent with the right skills so we can continue to lead the way in developing innovative food sciences and technology. [This degree] in food and drink manufacturing will help make this happen by providing students with access to state of the art facilities, on the job training and the latest developments in engineering.”