The Dales give you moor

Related tags Regional food group Supply chain National skills academy Sheffield

The Dales give you moor
Rod Addy investigates opportunities and developments in the Yorkshire and Humber region in a new quarterly series of features

If there was one message food and drink firms and staff in Yorkshire and Humber should hear, it's that opportunities for training and development are there - they just need to open their eyes. According to sector skills council Improve, the area will need 17,000 new recruits from 2007-2017, with managers and process, plant and machine operatives being in particularly short supply.

Northern Foods is among the most active processors in recruitment and training, running a bursary for training 1,000 undergraduates annually.

The firm is pumping £40M into two plants, one in Uttoxeter, Staffordshire, and one for Fox's Biscuits in Batley, Yorkshire. Group recruitment manager Matt Sharp says it has about 35 managerial openings in Yorkshire and Humber. "Many of our projects are about changing the way we make food, looking at making product in a radically different way."

As a result, as well as offering future potential to engineering and technical recruits, it is equipping existing staff to adapt to new technology. However, Sharp says such workers are proving especially hard to find, with most vacancies in this sphere taking two years to fill.

It's not just Northern Foods that needs staff with key technical skills. Warburtons, Fosters Bakery, Nestlé and Cranswick Food Group also have significant investment plans.

Arla Foods is pouring millions of pounds into its Stourton dairy in Leeds and is agreeing job specifications for the factory. It's also involved in Project Eden, uniting the dairy industry and the National Skills Academy (NSA) to develop a Europe-wide template for dairy training and qualifications. Arla also trains apprentices at Cheshire college Reaseheath for 12-18 months before they shift to working on site for £15,000 per year until course completion.

Such development goes beyond individual firms. The region's whole seafood industry is in flux, affecting the job market irrevocably.

There are more than 200 Yorkshire and Humber seafood companies, says Carl James, Yorkshire and Humber Seafood Group project manager. Many smaller processors are moving inland to updated facilities, he says. "There are two projects looking to house 20-40 seafood companies and a smaller one to house eight to 10 firms in Hull."

The restructuring will offer "more opportunities for technical managers, skilled food scientists and engineers", says James.

In fact, the entire supply chain in the region is in transition. Farexchange, for example, is working on large supply chain projects, boosting farm businesses while helping processors secure good volumes of locally sourced products. One such project, Munton's Malt Supply Chain, links 100 Yorkshire and Humber farmers with brewers and distillers such as Carlsberg, InBev and Diageo.

Launched in June, the project ringfences malting barley supplies through the construction of a facility with capacity to store 24,000t of malt owned by Muntons. Major initiatives in red meat and potato supply are shortly to be announced.

Change is affecting the whole industry, says Sarah Knapper, research and development director at the Regional Food Group: "The number employed by the food industry in the region is slowly declining, mainly due to consolidation and increased automation."

Yet this change offers fresh possibilities, she says. The challenge in the midst of this transition is to find and equip personnel with the skills necessary to adapt.

Other industries, such as pharmaceuticals, offer potential food science recruits, says Sam Coxon, business manager for scientific recruitment at staffing agency Pulse, with offices in Leeds: "Analytical skills in core scientific roles can often be beneficial to the food manfacturing industry, for example when analysing food contents and contamination."

As for training, aside from the core providers, the Doncaster-based Centre for Robotics and Automation (CenFRA) is working with the National Skills Academy on a qualification replacing NVQ Levels 1-4 in robotics and automation. CenFRA expects the course outline to be ready by the end of the year. "People tell us, 'we can get the people, but they don't have a clue what to do'," says CenFRA commercial director David Cheeseman. Consequently, CenFRA's main focus is advising on how to upskill existing employees.

As well as CenFRA, Appetising Innovation offers training and guidance for processors, including a one-week course on microbiology with Leeds Metropolitan University and Clear View, a project taking manufacturers step-by-step through new product development.

Lesser-known training providers are making a name for themselves. "Barnsley College is spending money on a state-of-the-art bakery section to be finished mid-to-late next year," says David Hickman, Improve's operations manager for Yorkshire & Humberside. "East Riding College has good links with meat processors, while Back-Up Training - based outside Beverley - has done good things with McCain Foods."

The industry is also gearing up for a major NSA-backed conference on October 14, hosted by Sheffield Hallam University and looking at predicting skills needs in the next five years.

Cash is tight for most regional firms, so they must weigh up whether to invest for the future or wait and hope they don't get left behind, says Cheeseman.

Hickman says getting cash for training and development has been tricky. Historically training providers had to bid for funds through the Huddersfield Textile Centre of Excellence, the region's old trade hub. But he says: "As of April 1 this year, support falls under Yorkshire Forward and Yorkshire Business Link."

While the system is in flux, communication may have been confusing, but Hickman says if businesses persevere, they can help ensure the future profitability of the whole region. FM

Fact file

Employees: 50,516, Office for National Statistics (ONS) April 28

Number of vacancies: 94 (ONS), April 28

Number of processors: 1,055 (ONS 2008)

Av. industry salary: £19,384/yr (Improve)

Sales: £8.55bn (ONS 2006)

Top five processors by sales: Arla Foods; William Morrison Produce; Northern Foods; Foodvest (Young's, The Findus Group, The Seafood Group); Carlsberg UK

Sectors with the most staff: bakery; beer; meat & meat processing; seafood

Top five training providers: Sheffield Hallam University; Leeds University; Huddersfield University; Grimsby Institute of Further & Higher Education; Thomas Danby College

Yorkshire Forward's main delivery partners for its food strategy: Appetising Innovation (product and packaging innovation); Centre for Robotics & Automation; Farexchange (linking producers and processors on supply chain initiatives); Regional Food Group (promoting trade in regional food); Yorkshire and Humber Seafood Group

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