Andy MacPherson, industry manager, food and beverage at Festo Training and Consulting, said that finding the engineers and managers needed to replace a workforce nearing retirement and drive the industry forward is a significant challenge.
At the same time, industry has “failed” to reach out to the brightest and best people from more glamorous sectors, he said.
He told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “As a result, many people are really unaware of the technology, processes and associated jobs in the industry.”
The food industry is full of capable people but not all organisations are able to support and develop them, he added.
Blue chip food manufacturers may have extensive skills development programmes, but MacPherson said: “In many cases, it is the SMEs [small- to medium-sized enterprises] that face the greater challenge, both in recognising the need to update their skills and in having the longer-term vision to do so when they are dependent, in many cases, in shorter-term manufacturing contracts from the supermarkets.”
His comments follow a Festo report on the challenges affecting engineering and manufacturing in 2012/2013.
It said that leadership and management skills were the most under-resourced area in food manufacturing, while a significant skills gap looms without adequate training and coaching.
The survey found that 48% of food and beverage manufacturers thought technical skills needed to be developed.
63% of organisations said leadership and strategic skills needed to be developed, particularly in the areas of people management skills (70%) and listening (61%).
Meanwhile, 57% of food and beverage companies currently have an apprenticeship scheme in place to help address the skills gap.
MacPherson said companies should make the strategic decision to develop their people, particularly in management and leadership. Large multi-nationals have done this but more SMEs “need to move in a similar direction”.
Commenting on the report, Jon Poole, chief executive Institute of Food Science & Technology, recognised that scientific and technical skills “can only be truly effective if supported by softer skills and behaviours”.
Poole said: “The food sector as a whole certainly faces many of the same issues highlighted in this report: a shortage of skills; sector image; difficulty in recruiting.
“Certainly we know that investing in the development of people, whether in technical skills or softer behaviours and skills – through a mix of coaching, formal and informal training – can have a positive impact on retention.”
Food and Drink Federation (FDF) director of competitiveness, Angela Coleshill, said that from 2007 to 2017, the food and drink manufacturing industry will need to recruit 35,000 managers to replace those retiring or leaving the sector.
Some businesses find managerial vacancies "hard to fill", which suggests negative industry perceptions or unqualified candidates.
Coleshill added: “We believe that there is a leadership and management skills gap within our industry although we are seeing some progress.”
Meanwhile, to view hundreds of top jobs in food and drink manufacturing, including operations, science and management, visit Foodmanjobs or click here .
To watch our exclusive video with FDF communications director, Terry Jones about industry efforts to appeal to young recruits, click here .