As part of an initiative launched by the IGD grocery think tank, called Feeding Britain’s Future, the idea is to develop opportunities for young people during Skills for Work Week, which runs from September 17 to 21.
Over 1M young people in the UK are currently not in employment, education or training. As the UK’s leading employer, with about 3.8M employees – around one in seven of the total workforce – the food supply chain has recognised that it has a vital part to play in tackling youth employment.
“There is a crisis,” said Norman Pickavance, group HR director for Morrisons, at the recent IGD Skills Summit: “We are facing the prospect of a lost generation and retail has a part to play.” He referred to the “broken ladder” as far as the prospects for many unemployed young people of starting a career in the sector was concerned.
Irwin Lee, vice president and md of Procter & Gamble UK and Ireland added: “The scale of the problem is so large, no one of our companies or the government can solve it alone. There is potential for this industry-wide body working together … also with those working in education and social mobility.”
About 50 companies in the sector have pledged to support the initiative, including a number of major food and drink manufacturers. However, more are needed to take part.
Firms will be expected to provide a range of advice to young unemployed people. Among a range of objectives, one is to provide a better understanding of the food and drink sector and of the skills required to build a successful career within it.
“What I wasn’t before aware of is the need to deliver the mindset of work to terminally unemployed people,” said Fiona Dawson, president of Mars Chocolate UK, one of the manufacturers involved in the initiative, after listening to the plight of many unemployed. “We want to throw open our doors so people can see the variety of jobs on offer.”
During the week, companies will run training sessions and try to boost the confidence and skills of young people as well as give them practical advice on what employers are looking for in a new employee. The idea is also to help them shine in interviews, which many unemployed young people find daunting.
Sarah Schol, vice president for human resources with Coca-Cola Enterprises, another manufacturer involved in the initiative, said: “We are excited to be partners with Jobcentre Plus to bring people into the workplace and inspiring them about our sector as a career of choice.”
At the same event, Carole Stewart, group technical director for Northern Foods, which is now part of 2 Sisters Food Group, raised concerns about the low numbers of young people following food science courses. There were just 300 applications for degrees in 2009.
“Attracting science students into the food industry is vital,” said Stewart. She described a summer school being run in collaboration with Nottingham University, which was designed to raise the profile of food science among year 11 school children (15 and 16 year olds) from a range of socio-economic groups.
While successful, with the maximum of 50 students signed up to attend this year, Stewart remarked that more direct financial support (£350/student) was needed from food companies to ensure the continuation of the scheme.
The Feeding Britain’s Future initiative will also give businesses that sign up the opportunity to engage with local communities and to showcase the scale and diversity of the food and drink sector. For more details, visit: www.feedingbritainsfuture.com .