Walkers Shortbread has called on the Scottish government to encourage education that generates enterprise and enough people with the right qualifications for food and drink manufacturers.
At Creating Opportunities, Building Success, a parliamentary reception in Holyrood, Edinburgh hosted by the Scottish Food and Drink Federation and sector skills council Improve, Ian Gibson, general manager, Walkers Shortbread, said: “The Scottish government needs to ensure the education system fosters an entrepreneurial and enterprising culture and that there is an adequate supply of appropriately qualified people to match the needs of business.” He was speaking after the creation of Skills for Scotland: a Skills Strategy for a Competitive Scotland, together with a body focused on skills in Scotland, announced on September 10.
Gibson said Walkers Shortbread had found it a challenge in recent years to find recruits when there had been relatively low unemployment in its heartland of Moray. “In common with many food and drink manufacturing companies in Scotland, people, not competition, is in danger of capping our potential to expand.”
However, Gibson said the recent influx of migrant workers across the EU had been “a major boost” for the company “to the extent that almost 30% of our workforce are currently from Eastern Europe”. However, he said the language barrier could create complications and also asked the government for more central support in the area. “English lessons, translation of company documentation into the mother tongue being examples.”
Gibson said the food and drink industry offered a wide variety of career opportunities, “perhaps more than people realise”, but he added: “There is currently a shortage in technical (engineers, electricians, food scientists and technologists) and skilled (especially craft) workers. If the food and drink manufacturing sector is to boost its productivity and competitiveness, management and supervisory skills must be raised and the quality and supply of the above mentioned skills must be increased.”
Addressing representatives of the food and drink industry at the reception, Maureen Watt, Scottish government minister for Schools and Skills said: “We know through your involvement with the lifelong learning consultation that the food and drink sector faces unique challenges, not only in terms of competition in the market place but fundamentally having access to the right people with the right skills at the right time to work within the industry. It is this access to the right people and importantly the training of the current workforce that every sector has in common and what our strategy is aiming to address.