People with specific skills would be available if more food and drink firms took on apprentices, said SFA director Sue Husband.
This was the only way the sector could fill the deficit of 170,000 employees predicted for it by 2020, she added.
Husband’s comments followed concerns raised by Justine Fosh, chief executive of National Skills Academy (NSA) for food and drink, about the increased reliance government placed on food manufacturers to bridge the skills gap they faced.
Entice youngsters into apprenticeships
However, Husband said that more had to be done by the food industry itself to entice youngsters into apprenticeships. While not advocating a preference for apprenticeships over degrees, she claimed vocational skills would be a better option for some.
“It’s down to the individual, but university isn’t always the right place,” said Husband. “A lot of people have a better chance of success in an environment where they can learn and work. You can learn many transferable skills on an apprenticeship, which can be used across a variety of food businesses.”
She recognised that the sector had made progress in recruiting more apprentices, an option that was beginning to be considered by more young people, but thought more should be done.
52% rise in apprenticeships
Across manufacturing in general there had been a 52% rise in apprentices to 65,000 since 2009/10, according to recent SFA statistics. When they finished their training, eight out of 10 found employment and seven out of 10 were kept on by the company training them, said Husband.
Mondeléz International, which was recently listed along with Nestlé in the City and Guilds’s Top 100 Apprenticeship Employers, has more than 70 apprentices working across its 10 UK sites.
“We have experienced first-hand how valuable these young people are within our organisation once given the right on-the-job training,” said Gemma Friggens, Mondeléz International talent and early careers lead for Europe.
Despite the progress made on apprenticeships, Fosh called for more government initiatives to reduce the sector’s skills shortage.