Big plans aim to raise appeal of careers in food and drink

By Rick Pendrous

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Drink sector, Apprenticeship, Food and drink federation

Jobs in the food and drink manufacturing sector look set to become more attractive, thanks to plans to create a novel series of professional qualifications. Employees will be able to map out their career paths from the shopfloor to the boardroom and build up a portfolio of transferable qualifications as they progress.

They will accrue modules that give them the flexibility to change their career direction and will experience working with employers, which will benefit by having skilled workers on hand for their specific needs.

For some time, the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) the professional accreditation body for food science courses in the UK and Improve the food and drink Sector Skills Council have been exploring ways to encourage and support the development of skills at all levels and across all disciplines within the food sector.

Now, with support from many high-profile food employers and organisations such as the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), these bodies are looking for financial backing from the government's new Growth and Innovation Fund (GIF) to help take these plans forward.

Employers and representative bodies have been making a significant amount of noise recently about the number of exciting career opportunities in the food and drink sector. These are more accessible than ever for those who are prepared to take responsibility for their own personal growth.

Employers are starting to introduce apprenticeships and higher apprenticeships more significantly; a new class of professional recognition for technicians is expected to be introduced later this year; and training course provision through National Skills Academy (NSA) providers and employers' in-house training solutions has never been so comprehensive.

However, this wealth of opportunities can bring confusion for both employers and learners over choices of career paths and the relative experience levels attained. Improve and IFST, working with leading employers and other associations, are looking to develop a sector-wide framework for professional recognition, which they believe will provide more clarity for all parties. It will help individuals to identify career opportunities and the training and experience they need to progress to the next level.

This transparency over the possibilities for progression should, in turn, attract more high-quality candidates to the sector. Providing a set of recognisable and coherent professional levels will make it easier for employers to recognise the capability of individuals for recruitment and development.

The plan is to phase in the development of a professional framework. A pilot project is planned, initially involving two elements of the food sector: food safety specialists representing just one specialist area of food science and technology and another based on a specific sector, such as bakery.

Jon Poole, chief executive of IFST said: "This is a very exciting and important step forward for the Institute and for those working in the food and drink sector. Our Institute has always had the promotion and recognition of professional standards for those working in food science and technology at the heart of its activities. This scheme can play a significant role in enhancing professionalism at all levels within the food and drink sector."

Jack Matthews, chief executive of Improve, said: "We know that the industry is a great place to work, with rewarding careers and interesting job roles but we have lacked a clear framework to enable individuals to chart their careers and indeed to provide a clear route for their ambitions. Employers have told us that the introduction of professional standards would support an ambition to be world class."

Matthews added: "Our submission to the government's GIF, if successful, will enable Improve and the IFST to start the work to deliver this vision."

Justine Fosh, director of the NSA for food and drink, added: "We work every day with employers from across the food and drink industry and many report how confusing the landscape is. The introduction of professional standards will make a profound difference providing greater visibility and transparency around those skills and competencies that are essential for a high-performance industry.

"This, in turn, will support training providers to provide support programmes and continuing professional development that is genuinely understood to deliver value."

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