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The National Skills Academy for food and drink manufacturing opens this month. Gail Hunt finds out what it will mean for the industry

The opening of the National Skills Academy for food and drink manufacturing is the culmination of more than two years of research, planning and development by employers, co-ordinated by the food and drink sector skills council Improve. The £4.4M academy is forecast to deliver new skills to at least 28,000 people during its first four years.

It's ambitious and different, as it has been driven by employers' needs, designed by employers, and will be run by employers. "This is a major new landmark in the training provision for food and drink manufacturers," says Improve chairman Paul Wilkinson.

But anyone searching for the address of this new Academy will be disappointed. Sure, Improve has its HQ in York, but the majority of the training programmes will be delivered through a network of approved training centres across the country, each designated by its particular specialist area of expertise.

Currently, there are seven approved centres, but it is anticipated that there will be 35 within three years. It is also worth bearing in mind that four have been rejected during the process as they didn't meet the standards required.

So what is the Academy? According to Paula Widdowson, commercial director of Improve, it will be based around a website at​ where numerous training courses available to food and drink companies will be published.

It might not include every single course, but it is very extensive and designed for businesses of all sizes.

Website features also include: diagnostic tools to identify the skills that individuals might require and the best training solutions available; a course-finder tool that works with a fully searchable database; online training courses; and access to training materials.

Secondly, the Academy is all about programmes being developed in response to employers' needs. The first new programme to be offered is 'Production Management - a lean approach'. It has been designed and produced specifically for the Academy, and will deliver learning units pitched at NVQ levels 2 and 3. Currently, learners can select from job-specific units for bakery, meat and poultry, sea-fish processing, or general food manufacturing. More units for other specialist areas will be added later.

The programme can be followed in the form of a blended e-learning course, which is a combination of online study and classroom or work-based learning. "This form of learning means students get supported by a tutor online and on the phone, which research shows moves the completion rates up," says Widdowson. "It also involves some serious project work by students, which can result in major savings for companies, too. This course has been tested by Müller, Coca-Cola, Warburtons, Moy Park, Northern Foods, Greencore, Young's Seafood, Nestlé and RHM to ensure it delivers what the food industry wants."

As well as courses being assessed by industry representatives, the centres of excellence also have to be approved by employer technical groups in each sector.

It is an exciting time for the Academy, but employer commitment and sponsorship is key to its success. To find out more, contact or call 0845 644 0448. FM

Approved Academy Training Centres:

  • Peter Rowley (Grimsby) - lean manufacturing 01472 269900

Peter Rowley has been working in lean manufacturing for 10 years and has developed expertise in the food and drink sector. It has also devised a wide range of food-specific training materials. The programmes aim to deliver productivity improvements by first educating the entire workforce, from boardroom to shop floor, about the benefits of lean systems. The implementation phase is driven by senior managers in the client organisation, who first undergo an intensive four-day programme about managing the change to lean manufacturing.

  • University of Lincoln Holbeach Campus - chilled ready meals 01406 493000

Val Braybrooks, director of Holbeach campus, says: "We are delighted that the Holbeach Campus has been chosen to pioneer the delivery of specialist technical skills for this sector, and look forward to working with employers to further develop provision."

  • Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education - fish processing 01472 311222

Daniel Khan, principal of Grimsby Institute, says: "We have long been regarded as a leading light in the provision of specialist fish processing training and we're looking forward to the opportunity to impart our knowledge of the sector through the new academy."

  • Poultec Training (Norfolk) - meat and poultry 01362 850983

Md Edward Bales says: "This status will enable us to continue to develop our food Centre of Excellence and also our training provision to meet the needs of employers and individuals in the food sector."

  • Reaseheath College (Nantwich) - dairy 01270 625131

"We have earned national recognition for our training in the food industry, due to our team of expert staff and unique food processing and development halls.

"Our selection as an academy will enable us to continue to support the needs of the industry, both in training and in the development of new products," says college principal Meredydd David.

  • JohnsonDiversey (Northampton) - hygiene skills in food manufacturing 01604 405311

JohnsonDiversey, which has delivered the Hygiene Managers' Training Course to employees of food and drink manufacturing sites for more than five years, can now provide the framework for trainers across the UK to train people before they enter the food industry, giving employers skilled workers ready to work from day one.

  • The Seafood Training Academy - seafood processing 0131 524 8667

This is a new partnership between The Sea Fish Industry Authority and four leading seafood training centres - at Billingsgate, Fleetwood, North Shields and Leeds.

Seafish chief executive John Rutherford says: "We have a raft of new products that we are going to make available to training providers free of charge as part of our commitment to improve skills in the industry."

The partners in the Seafood Training Academy are: Seafish; Billingsgate Seafood Training School, London; Seafood Northwest Training Centre, Fleetwood; Seafood Training Centre, North Shields; the National Federation of Fish Fryers' Training School, Leeds.

Employers can sign up to receive an e-bulletin with all the latest Skills Academy news, by sending their email address to with 'Academy e-bulletin' as the subject.

Food and drink manufacturing Apprenticeships: the new framework

A major drive to revitalise apprenticeships in food and drink manufacturing has been launched by sector skills council Improve.

The new framework will not only make it easier for young people to learn, it will also be easier and cheaper for employers and training providers to deliver.

For instance, any company wanting to train 16-19 year olds will be able to do so mainly on site, so they are not losing a worker for one day every week, and it will be paid for by the government.

It is completely free of charge to the company and the training provider will come to the factory to deliver most of the NVQ level 2 training.

Training for those up to 24 years old is also subsidised by government, while this August will also see the launch of an Adult Apprenticeship programme for which the government has allocated over £16M across England.

Terry Fennell is learning frameworks manager at Improve and is looking for feedback from manufacturers on the reformulated programme right now ( The new programme is to be up and running in the autumn with existing students transferring across easily.

The new plan involves one all-embracing, flexible framework called Food Manufacture which can be adapted to meet the specific needs of any of the 10 sub-sectors of food and drink manufacturing.

For instance, there are 10 'pathways' to choose from for NVQ or SNVQ level 2, depending on the needs of each student:

  • Production control skills
  • Production improvement skills
  • Craft bakery skills
  • Process bakery skills
  • Meat and poultry processing skills
  • Butchery retail skills
  • Retail and service support skills
  • Facilities support skills
  • Distribution skills
  • Livestock and droving skills

For Level 3 qualifications, there are six further pathways to choose from:

  • Craft bakery skills
  • Meat and poultry skills
  • Management skills
  • Supply chain skills
  • Technical skills
  • Improvement skills

"We have concentrated on providing more options, a flexible choice and more delivery patterns to make things more attractive to young people and employers," explains Fennell. "We are no longer making learners do parts of the apprenticeship that are not relevant to their current businesses."

Instead, Fennell believes that the new programme will not only appeal to manufacturers already training its young people through apprenticeships, but that it will bring back employers that may have been disillusioned with the previous scheme.

"Initial feedback to the proposed changes from our industry partners has been positive," he says, "and we hope this new programme will see apprenticeship numbers in food and drink manufacturing increase dramatically in the coming years"

For more details, log on to​ or call 0845 644 0448

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