Ceo Jack Matthews warned that the UK food and drink sector could face a “real problem” should the foreign labour pool dry up. He also urged employers within the industry to “take control” of their future and utilise the rage of skills now available to them.
He told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “In my role, I sign an awful lot of apprentice certificates and there are still just as many European names on them as there are from ones indigenous to the UK. The issue of our dependency on migrant labour is still very much there.
“If we maintain that dependency while ensuring access to these workers then that is fine. But if that access dries up, we could have a real problem.”
Matthews believes that the industry is over-reliant on the skills of migrant workers due to a lack of training provided for their UK counterparts. He called on employers to take advantage of the opportunities now available within the industry to address the skills shortages.
Strong work ethic
But bridging the skills gap alone would not be enough to remedy the problems associated with British workers, according to Peter Pickthall, HR director at R&R Ice Cream.
Speaking at the Businesses Leaders’ Summit, organised by our sister title Food Manufacture in London last month, Pickthall praised migrant workers’ strong work ethic, which, he claimed, was rarely found with their UK counterparts.
“Between 65 and 70% of our workforce is migrant labour,” said Pickthall.
“It is essential for us with our bases in North Yorkshire and Bodmin. The UK workforce will not come to work for us because there are too many [welfare] benefits. Migrant labour is an excellent workforce which comes to work every day.”
Improve is currently working with the wider food industry to increase jobs, growth and competitiveness following the government’s pledge in November last year to invest 1.7M in the food and drink manufacturing sector.
The skills framework programme is being backed by the Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST), Improve and the Food and Drink Federation(FDF). Support is also being provided by William Reed Business Media, publisher of FoodManufacture.co.uk and our sister magazine Food Manufacture.
As part of the framework the food industry agreed to match the government’s pledge in a bid to secure the long-term future for the sector and address the issues such as its dependency on migrant labour.
Matthews was positive about the work that had been achieved so far but highlighted the need for employers to continue working toward securing its future, especially in the unstable economic climate.
He said: “In the current economic climate the value of skills is really important. There are still skills gaps in the industry and unemployment is set to grow by another 3,000.
“Since November, we have really started to drive key initiatives, including the Tasty jobs and Tasty Graduates plans. We have been working with the FDF on these initiatives and we are starting to see real progress.”
Meanwhile, plugging the skills gap in UK food and drink manufacturing is the subject of a free half-day conference at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham on the morning of Monday March 26.
The Skills for a changing world event will focus on how food and drink manufacturers can attract and retain the next generation of young talent.
Also topping the agenda will be presentations from the FDF on actions to raise the industry’s image and the National Skills Academy on new training schemes.
To book your free place at this event, organised by our sister publication Food Manufacture and the IFST, contact Hannah Rosevear on 01293 610431 or email Hannah.Rosevear@wrbm.com.