Food manufacturers ‘too reliant’ on migrant workers

By Mike Stones

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Migrant workers National skills academy Food and drink

Are UK food and drink manufacturers too reliant on migrant workers?
Are UK food and drink manufacturers too reliant on migrant workers?
Food and drink manufacturers’ “over-reliance” on migrant workers and the challenge of attracting young recruits, were hot topics at Food Manufacture’s HR forum. Here, we capture a flavour – in quotes – of a wide-ranging and, at times, hard-hitting debate.

Jack Matthews​, chief executive of Improve, the sector skills council and the National Skills Academy for food and drink

“About 30% of our jobs​ [in food and drink manufacturing] are filled by migrant workers. In some cases, that rises to the upper 80 percents in the fish processing plants along the Humber estuary. We need to address our dependency on migrant workers in food production.”

Matthews: “We​ [food and drink manufacturers] have 137,000 vacancies to fill over the next five years. When we look at the demographics of our sector, too many people will retire. There are not enough young people to replace them.”

Jim Moseley​, president Food and Drink Federation (FDF)

​There are three overriding factors​ [facing the food and drink industry]: growing exports, which reached an estimated £12.1bn last year; staying world class in terms of products and innovation;and attracting the talent we need for the future.”

Moseley: “We have to compete for the best graduates of the future. The FDF wants to work with one or two universities to deliver graduates with the food and drink skills the industry requires.”

Justine Fosh​, executive director National Skills Academy

“The government seeks to grow the market for skills because the link between skills and growing productivity is well made.”

Sam Richards,​ engineering apprentice Nestlé

“I’ve been working shifts for the past 12 months and I really feel part of the team. I’m treated the same as the other two qualified engineers. Apprentices used to get tied up and grease put over them but nothing like that has happened to me.”

Richards: “Food manufacturers should advertise jobs in schools and sixth form colleges. They should offer opportunities for work experience to get people interested in jobs.”

Jon Poole​, chief executive Institute of Food Science and Technology

“For the UK to keep pace with demand and hold its competitive position, it has been estimated that we need 40% more technically skilled people over the next five years. The same applies for the food sector.”

Poole: “Most students are blind to the jobs that are available. There’s a lot to do in terms of encouraging and inspiring young people to consider what jobs are available.”

Chris Edwards​, technical competence development manager Arla Foods

“Three organisations are delivering a similar message but it is not joined up; they seem to be off kilter with each other. They should be working more together.”

HR manager

“We have 33 job vacancies to fill for 16– to 18–year–olds but we can’t find anyone suitable.”

HR manager

“The food industry used to be used as a threat. If you don’t work [at school] you will be going into the nearest food factory.”

The HR Forum was organised by’s sister title, Food Manufacture​ and took place at Foodex at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham on March 26.

For text news from the HR Forum, click here​.

For more video news, click here​. Watch out later this week for more video news from Food Manufacturer’s HR Forum.

HR Forum – in numbers

137,000                         Vacancies food and drink manufacturers must fill over the next five years. (Matthews)


117,000                         Food and drink workers whose roles involve science (Poole).


21,300                           Primary scientists working in food and drink manufacturing (Poole).


£25,000                         Starting salary in food and drink manufacturing firms (Moseley).


£40,000                         Salary after gaining more experience (Moseley).


8,500                             New food and drink product launches in 2011 (500 up on 2010) (Matthews).


33                                 Current vacancies in one firm that could not be filled due to lack of appropriate skills (HR manager).

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1 comment

The impact on current employee's

Posted by Terry Cummings,

It seems to me that many companies use migrant workers as a way of keeping wages down. They are prepared to work long hours, for low wages and in large towns and cities where the turnover of labour hits double figures. When these people are recruited, they are not encouraged to progress within the company.
The training, motivation and rewards are minimal, offering little encouragement for workers to develop themselves and take an interest in improving operational methods and techniques.
The result is that it gets harder to recruit the type of person you require. The fear for current employees is that standards will drop, safety issues will rise, the quality of the products will suffer and the attention to detail may be lost forever.
This will lead to loss of jobs, and a despondent workforce, which feels inadequate and unimportant. This can have a detrimental effect on the success of the business.
There are companies that are looking to provide good facilities, and reward packages with very good reputations. But they seem to overlook the potential of some employees because they are over a certain age. They offer rewards to encourage long-term employment for a loyal employee but seem to disregard the fact that most people will have to work until they are close to 70 in the future.
Their lose, in many cases, a considerable amount of experience that could be used to train younger people coming into the industry.
Its a sad state of affairs for an industry that has the potential to grow and help re-employ people from the growing unemployment pool, that is being generated at present.

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