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Food ATP will ‘struggle’ to attract small firms

By Laurence Gibbons , 03-May-2013

It will be a “challenge” for the Food Advanced Training Partnership (Food ATP) to attract small food and drink firms (SMEs) to see the benefits of enrolling employees on to courses designed to improve their scientific understanding, according to one of the founding partners.

The Food ATP was officially launched on Wednesday May 1 at the Henley Business School at the University of Reading.

Speaking at the launch, Paul Berryman, chief executive of Leatherhead Food Research, said the partnership provided an “ideal opportunity” for workers that have not studied at post graduate level to get to grips with new science. But he cautioned that SMEs tended to prefer shorter courses, so it would be a “challenge” to engage their interest in the course.

Ian Cutler, senior manager for scientific and regulatory affairs at Coca-Cola Enterprises, agreed the course would struggle to attract small firms. One of the reasons was it would require them to send factory staff for long periods of time to study on courses, he said.

But Cheryl White, head of quality at retailer Waitrose, disagreed with these views.  She said the Food ATP provided an ideal opportunity for small food and drink firms (SMEs)  ̶  that don’t have the capability to train staff in house  ̶  to give them “deep scientific training”.

Few firms will want to release staff

“If you are taking people out, you have to replace them,” said Cutler.  “If you have only a small workforce  of about 12  few firms will actually want to release 20% of their staff from the factory.”

He also questioned the benefits to SMEs of having staff trained to have a better grasp of food science.

“I’m not sure if this will fit into independent training budgets,” he said. “Firms will want to see the benefits in pounds, shillings and pennies to identify a need for staff to take the course.”

The Food Advanced Training Partnership (Food ATP) is a new collaboration between the University of Reading, the University of Birmingham, Leatherhead Food Research, Rothamsted Research and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), which funded the project.

It offers those working in food and drink manufacturing the chance to study for a Food ATP professional doctorate or masters programme, and learn about the latest developments in food science.

The food ATP offers a number of modules, ranging from diet, quality and health to sustainable supply systems and fundamentals of food processing . The price per module is £1,650.

The Professional Doctorate in Agriculture and Foodis made up of 12 modules and costs £44,133. The study can be spread over an agreed period of time.

Those running the course hope it will provide solutions to the problems facing the industry  ̶  in particularly the challenge of feeding the world’s growing population. The global demand for food is expected to rise by 50% by 2030.

Real and significant attempt’

David Bell, vice-chancellor at the University of Reading, said the project was a “real and significant” attempt to tackle the problems facing the industry by providing manufacturers with access to the latest scientific research. He added that they will then be able to transfer this knowledge into their companies to the benefit of the business.

Dr Celia Caulcott, director of innovation and skills at the BBRSC, said: “This will enable new research to be taught directly to the industry workers. It will move knowledge from the research base to the industry. We believe passionately that the industry needs science, and not just for research.”

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