Sponsoring students could help fill food skills gap

By Graham Holter

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food and drink

No blue hairnets and welllies: The food industry has an image problem
No blue hairnets and welllies: The food industry has an image problem
The UK food industry should remedy its chronic skills shortage by sponsoring more university students. Jon Poole, chief executive of the Institute of Food Science & Technology, said the move would benefit companies and students alike.

“If companies were to offer students sponsored places, which were more common in the 1980s, young people would become attached to those companies, and have the opportunity for their work experience and summer holiday placements to be with the company,”​ Poole said.

“If a student is faced with three years of £9,000 ​[tuition fees] or a sponsored place where they only pay three years of £7,000, that’s an attractive proposition.”

Poole said the investment involved could be less than the current cost of graduate recruitment.

Retain graduates

He told FoodManufacture.co.uk that it would be more efficient to steer students towards food science courses in this way than to retrain graduates with other science degrees.

“We’re interested in roles with a need for science and technology. It’s the area where we see the biggest skills gap,”​ he said.

“The sector has not been good at retaining people from university courses, who are finding roles outside of the UK, or recruited to non-food science roles, and that’s a great shame.

“If you take on a more generalist science student, you can develop them and adapt them to the needs of the company – but it does seem a shame when there are students out there that could be attracted but are going elsewhere.”

The Food & Drink Federation (FDF) said it hopes to develop a new degree course aimed at delivering a stream of graduates ready to join the food industry.

Angela Coleshill, FDF’s director of competitiveness, said graduate numbers were expected to fall as a result of higher tuition fees. “This could mean food and drink manufacturers will have to compete even harder against industries that are perceived to be more exciting and rewarding in order to attract gradate talent,”​ she said.

“We therefore want to work with one or possibly twouniversities to deliver FDF’s Graduate Ambition - a new degree course which will equip graduates with the skills that the food and drink industry requires.

“We’ve developed a menu of options to frame how our members might participate. Businesses may decide to sponsor individuals on the course, they may offer short-term work experience as part of a sandwich degree or agree to employ a certain percentage of graduates who have completed the course.

Blue hairnets

Poole acknowledged that the food industry “does have an image problem”, adding: “Most people only see the food sector for blue hairnets and wellies yet there are so many other roles that are nothing to do with that.”

He said the industry should work harder at providing case studies of career paths into managerial positions. He also acknowledged the importance of apprenticeships and welcomed the 50,000 on-the-job training programmes unveiled this summer by Department for Food and Rural Affairs, in partnership with the food industry.

“Given that we believe there will still not be enough people coming through from university system, getting people to work at apprentice level is pretty critical to the industry,”​ he said.

Related topics: People & Skills

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Food Degrees in North East Lincolnshire

Posted by L. Hayes,

The idea is superb as there is indeed a shortage of graduates entering the industry compared with 20 years ago. My argument would be that we need the employers to support these students both financially and practically. We are located in an area of substantial food manufacturing with excellent Food Manufacturing Management (FdSc) and top-up programmes and still find it extremely difficult to recruit.

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BSDA supports calls to sponsor more students

Posted by Richard Laming,

The British Soft Drinks Association fully supports calls from the Institute of Food Science and Technology for UK food companies to sponsor more students to attend university. In fact, when supporting students, the soft drinks industry is actually ahead of the game.

Since autumn 2007, money has been made available by BSDA to support apprenticeships and undergraduate courses in order to address the problem of the shortage of people entering a career in food science and technology. So far it has been a resounding success; our first apprentices and graduates have already gained further training or employment with major manufacturers, retailers and research companies in the food and drink industry.

Therefore, we wish the IFST every success with their campaign; attracting the best people with the right skills to the food and drink industry will be, I’m sure, a huge benefit to us all.

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