Enlist teen apprentices to help plug skills gap: DEFRA

By Michael Stones

- Last updated on GMT

George Eustice (L) met apprentices and FDF officials during his visit to McCain's Peterborough factory yesterday
George Eustice (L) met apprentices and FDF officials during his visit to McCain's Peterborough factory yesterday

Related tags Young people Apprenticeship Vocational education

Food and drink manufacturers should send teenage apprentices into schools to inspire youngsters to choose the right qualifications to launch a career in the industry, as part of a new approach to careers advice, says George Eustice, food and farming minister.

The Department for Education and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs were working together to develop the fresh approach, Eustice told FoodManufacture.co.uk yesterday (March 6), during a visit to McCain’s factory at Whittlesey, near Peterborough to mark National Apprenticeship Week.

“We want to get young people – who have maybe just started apprenticeships and who are 18 or 19 or in their early 20s –  to be going into schools to try to inspire teenagers to choose the same route that they have taken,”​ said Eustice.

‘Inspire young people’

“Too often we have a situation where we have people at the end of their career coming into schools and trying to persuade young people that they ought to be doing this. We actually need the bright young people who are doing apprenticeships today to go into schools and try to inspire young people about the potential for this as a career choice.”

The UK food and drink sector is worth more than £90bn per year and employs nearly 4M people. “All successful industries need new people coming in with fresh thinking and the food and farming sector is no exception.”

The food and drink sector is predicted to need about 170,300 new recruits in the next six years.

During his visit, Eustice spoke to engineering apprentices on site about their roles at the company.  Afterwards, he praised the four-fold increase in food and drink sector apprenticeships from 1,500 in 2011 to 7,500 last year.

His visit followed the launch of the Trailblazer standard for engineering apprenticeships.

Bill Bartlett, McCain’s corporate affairs director, said the McCain engineering maintenance technician apprenticeship scheme was now in its second year. “The scheme is working towards bridging the engineering sector’s skills gap by equipping students with the right education, skills and experience to progress them successfully within their engineering careers,” ​he said.

“One of 12 signatories to Apprenticeship Trailblazers, McCain is pleased to be involved in developing new apprenticeship standards to support more young people in progressing their education and careers within the food manufacturing industry.”

Attract new apprentices

Melanie Leech, director general at the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), said the week had been packed with activities to attract new apprentices. “Apprenticeships are a great way to ensure the sector has a skilled workforce for the future,” ​she said. “Not only will the company gain a valuable staff member with the talent to make a difference to the business, but the apprentice also gains the confidence, ambition and sense of value which goes hand-in-hand with earning a recognised qualification, inspiring loyalty and the drive to take their career further.”

Meanwhile, UK employers pledged more than 20,000 apprenticeships, as part of National Apprenticeship Week. Vince Cable, business secretary, said the government was ending the damaging divide between vocational and academic learning.

“We are committed to the biggest ever investment in apprenticeships and are on track to create 2M apprenticeships over the course of this parliament,”​ said Cable.

Learn more about how the food industry needs “a fresh approach​” to attract new talent in our exlusive video interview​ with Eustice.  

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