As part of this, three sector skills councils: Lantra, responsible for training in land-based and environmental sectors; Improve, the food and drink manufacturing sector skills council; and Skillsmart Retail, in charge of retail training, have joined forces to form the Food Supply Network (FSN). This joint venture will attempt to resolve an impending skills crisis that threatens the future of the UK's domestic food supply chain.
At the launch of the FSN last month at the House of Commons, food minister James Paice recognised the difficulties in attracting talent to the sector. He reported that 43% of vacancies across the industry were hard to fill, with a huge 75% of those in practical and technical skill sets.
The FSN aims to increase understanding of the importance of learning and skills in creating a sustainable food network and maintaining long-term food security. A spokeswoman for Skillsmart Retail said that the FSN is all about providing a "united voice" to promote the industry. It will involve collaborating in areas such as labour market requirements and skills, said a spokesman for Improve. It is also about countering the "negative image" often held about food manufacture by the general public, he added.
The FSN is supporting an Early Day Motion in parliament calling on the government to address skills shortages in the food sector and to recognise its importance in its policy making.
"We need to change the mindset of school careers officers, where the food and drink industry is viewed as the industry you go into when you fail," said Justin King, Sainsbury's chief executive and president of the IGD think tank. "What an upside-down world we have with so many jobs that are hard to fill at this time."
Academic institutions that provide food technology courses would like government to inject more financial support into training. A spokesman for the University of Lincoln said institutions were already far too dependent on the private sector for their existence. He also called on the industry itself to engage more with potential recruits among young people under 18 years old, offering more apprentices, bursaries, work experience and work shadowing.