Figures released by the sector skills council Improve in 2011 predicted that 137,000 new recruits would need to be attracted to the sector by 2017 to replace those retiring. Just 11% of the workforce is under 24 years of age, with many young people not considering jobs in the industry because of a lack of awareness, said the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink.
Kaarin Goodburn, director general at the Chilled Food Association (CFA), said: "The industry is moving at a rapid pace in terms of value, but also in vacancies. To achieve what we can as an industry we need fresh, young blood. For that, we need to change the attitudes associated with food manufacturing jobs."
Much earlier age
The industry needs to target children from a much earlier age, said Goodburn. Through its project, Chilled Education, the CFA sends individuals from leading food firms into schools to promote careers in the sector. They act as science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) ambassadors to inform children, aged 515, about the food industry. They also help with lesson plans and offer site visits. The CFA has 17 STEM ambassadors and is registered with nearly 200 schools.
Mary-Ann Kilby, md of Melton Foods, one of the firms involved in the project, said: "Visits show how attractive this fast- moving ever-changing environment can be and demonstrate the range of careers on offer to anyone interested in science."
Goodburn added: "This is part of a 20-year project to have a wave of food scientists who can lead the industry. It is good for business, good for people and good for the future of food."
Nottingham Trent University recently launched the UK's first higher level apprenticeship in food science and technology, Sara Paulson, Foundation Food Science and Technology course leader, said: "The main barrier is people don't understand what industry jobs actually involve. We encourage manufacturers to get out there and tell people what they do, and entice more young people in."
The university is working with Unilever and Pepsico.