Fit for fishing

By Freddie Dawson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Apprenticeship

Fit for fishing
Grimsby has been associated with fish since Viking days. The first training probably occurred then. Today, it's provided by the Humber Seafood Institute (HSI) part of the Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education.

To meet the challenges of today's seafood sector the HSI has had to evolve. It has gone from concentrating on fisheries management to training processors. The HSI also faces a tough economic environment, in which institutes can no longer offer pre-packaged courses, teaching whoever shows up.

Instead, the HSI combines training, research and consultancy, using the three arms to feed and build off each other to develop skills vital to the survival of the sector. This strategy has allowed the HSI to grow from £3M turnover last year to an estimated £8M this year, says Professor Mike Dillon, vice principal of the Grimsby Institute, project director for the HSI and president of the International Association of Fish Inspectors.

"Governments have not supported knowledge centres look at the number that have closed and places like this [with teaching, research and industry consultation combined in one] have emerged to take their place,"​ he says.

The HSI has maintained a dedication to all three arms by employing staff who have a combination of academic and practical skills such as a PhD in robotics and another man who has 40 years of factory experience, says Dillon.

This range of experience enables the HSI to support its consultancy with unique research.

The HSI recently poached The Food Refrigeration and Process Engineering Research Centre (FRPERC) from Bri stol University. It is reviewing all the research that has been done into refrigeration to challenge assumptions that have long been held by the sector, says Dillon.

The institute is also involved in cutting edge experimentation, Dillon adds. For example, it is studying the effect of electromagnets on freezing processes to determine if they can enable water molecules to do less damage to cell structure when seafood is frozen. Soon it will start a project for the Food Standards Agency Scotland (FSAS) looking into histamines in fish. This is the first time the FSAS has awarded such a project to an institute outside Scotland, he says.

Consultancy and training

The HSI's research feeds into its consultancy arm, along with the expertise it generates in areas such as food hygiene, lean manufacturing and supply chain integration.

It uses this to examine underperforming national fish industries across the globe most recently Indonesia bringing them up to international standards, says Dillon.

At the same time, the HSI works alongside seafood processors in the UK, such as Young's Seafood. A £500,000 investment at Young's resulted in an estimated £2M of savings over the last five years achieved through upskilling workers in key positions, says Dillon.

Before its takeover by 2 Sisters' owner Ranjit Boparan, the HSI had been doing similar work with Northern Foods and expects this to continue, he adds.

HSI believes that training and consultancy go hand-in-hand. Training is useless without a consultation to determine the strengths and weaknesses of an organisation; and consultations on lean manufacturing without training provide no long-term impact, says Paul Ainsworth, commercial director at the Grimsby Institute.

It is important for a training provider to work with a company to ensure any training is embedded and delivers a profit, he says.

"It's about getting manufacturers to take a different approach to in-factory training. Get them to focus on people's capabilities and how they can be more efficient in working rather than simply cutting costs. The best idea is to use education and training as a leading edge to maintain competitiveness,"​ says Dillon.

As well as vocational and apprenticeship training, the HSI also teaches post-graduate students from associated universities who work on its consultancy and research projects.

The students gain from advanced level hands-on experience while the HSI can use their potential to better address the problems that confound the sector, says Dillon. "It's not really about the degree, it's about the skills necessary to keep a competitive edge,"​ he explains.

It may be far from the fishermen of yesteryear, who fished with nets thrown from the sides of longships. But the HSI today is confident that it is well placed to address whatever challenges the future holds for fishing.

Related topics: Meat, poultry & seafood, People & Skills

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