The industry will step up its attempts to attract highly-motivated and qualified graduates to its ranks this month with the help of Careers in Food and Drink (CIFAD) Live, the annual fair which promotes to prospective students careers in food manufacture, retail, sales, marketing, foodservice and hospitality.
CIFAD Live, which returns to the Birmingham NEC on the 8-10th of this month alongside the Convenience Retailing Show, is a series of three one-day seminars covering manufacturing; foodservice and hospitality; and more general jobs in food and drink such as in retail. The aim of the seminars is to raise the profile of the industry, which is in desperate need of young, talented individuals in some areas, and at the same time to dispel the often-held perception among graduates that the food industry is an uninspiring place in which to work.
Manufacturing is the first sector to be covered by CIFAD Live on March 8, chaired by Paul Wilkinson, chairman of Improve, the food and drink Sector Skills Council. Speakers at the event will cover the whole spectrum of the industry: from product development to distribution, with talks from academics, development chefs, technical and safety personnel and logistics managers.
Professor David Hughes, emeritus professor of food marketing at Imperial College, for example, will outline to students the upcoming trends in the sector and explain the job opportunities likely to arise as a result.
Chris Jones, innovation and development chef at Sun Valley, will demonstrate the challenges for development chefs in creating food products to cater for the growing demand for novel products. Meanwhile, Carole Stewart, technical executive at Northern Foods, will discuss the technical and quality assurance issues that need to be taken into account when bringing a new product to market.
Other contributors to the manufacturing seminar include Paddy Hughes, logistics manager at Gü Chocolate Puds; Andrew Stark, general manager at Christian Salvesen; and Sean McCurley, category manager for Tesco.
Events such as CIFAD Live are becoming increasingly important to the industry because of a continued decline in the number of workers with the skills necessary for roles such as technicians, manufacturing engineers, food technologists and scientists.
According to Jack Matthews, chief executive of Improve, if the industry does not act to attract more workers in these areas, it could be in real trouble.
"The sector is growing, but as it does so the existing shortages in skills are in danger of growing more acute," he says.
Facing a crisis
According to Matthews, Improve is currently involved in discovering exactly how bad the shortfall of food scientists and technologists in the industry really is. Although anecdotal evidence suggests that the industry is facing a crisis, Improve wants to identify precisely the extent of staff shortages in order to put a suitable plan of action in to place.
For example, Matthews says that last year, around 240 food scientists graduated from universities. Of these, around 100 either went back into academia or moved into areas such as environmental health, while the rest entered the food industry. But what impact those 140 people had on the industry is yet to be discovered, he says.
One way Matthews believes manufacturers can attract more scientists and technologists is by promoting the benefits of a career in the industry. At the same time, he adds, it could do more to quell some of the misconceptions people have -- such as a belief that the industry's wages are generally poor.
"There are vast opportunities for careers throughout the spectrum of skill levels, and in a significant number of roles the sector pays above national average salaries," says Matthews. "A food scientist can join the industry at £23,000 per annum and expect to see that rise up to £65,000 in time."
Matthews also says the industry must get better at promoting the myriad of roles that are open to graduates to overcome the perception held by many students that the industry provides only monotonous manual jobs on the production line.
"There are excellent career opportunities in manufacturing, processing, technology, engineering, information technology, marketing, sales, human resources and general management," he says. "We must change the current view expressed by many parents, teachers and careers advisers that if you don't work hard you'll end up in a chicken factory.
'Part of the role of Improve is to promote the image of the sector as a good place to work so that it attracts the most able employees at every level."
Following on from the manufacturing day, the general food and drink seminar, held on March 9, will include speakers from companies such as Unilever Foodsolutions, Kitchen Range Foods and Nestlé UK.
The final seminar, on foodservice and hospitality, which takes place on March 10, will host presentations from restaurant chain Yo! Sushi, the Compass Group, Scottish & Newcastle Retail and Wizard Inns, among others.
As part of the event, CIFAD Live will offer advice to students on how to tailor a CV to get a job in the food industry. It will also give students tips on interview techniques.FM
For more information on CIFAD Live, contact William Reed Exhibitions, tel: 01293 610427.