Food sector needs more apprentices

By Rick Pendrous contact

- Last updated on GMT

Craft engineers in food and drink can earn in excess of £40,000 a year
Craft engineers in food and drink can earn in excess of £40,000 a year

Related tags: Drink sector, Industry, Apprenticeship

Greater co-ordination is needed between government and the food and drink industry to bring together various training schemes and initiatives on offer and raise the numbers of apprentices in the sector, a leading automation specialist has claimed.

At the same time, if food and drink manufacturing is to address the critical skills shortages it faces and raise levels of productivity, it has to be made more attractive to young people, said Andy MacPherson, national team manager for food and beverage with Festo Training & Consulting.

His comments were made as the new Conservative government announced plans in the Queen’s speech on May 27 for a bill to deliver 3M new apprenticeships across the board.

They also came as grocery think tank IGD’s Trading Relationships Survey 2015 reported that 82% of suppliers and retailers would place greater focus on building their teams' skills over the next three years to help them keep abreast of the rapid changes affecting the food industry.

Supports industry’s calls

Commenting on the Conservative’s plans, Terry Scuoler, chief executive of the engineering employers’ body EEF, said: “For the UK to truly compete in the global talent race, businesses need access to world-class skills. Focusing on industry-led skills initiatives such as National Colleges, University Technical Colleges​ [UTCs] and giving employers greater control of apprenticeships supports industry’s calls for a demand-led skills system.”

But, MacPherson said more needed to be done to raise the image of food manufacturing and communicate to young people, their parents and the teaching profession about the engineering career opportunities available in food and drink manufacturing,

Contrary to popular misconceptions, craft engineers in food and drink were often earning salaries in excess of £40,000 a year, claimed MacPherson. “Engineering apprenticeships represent an area which could make the food industry more appealing,”​ he said.

“From Festo’s involvement with the Food and Drink Federation at Big Bang, Appetite for Skills, plus going to UTCs and colleges, we’ve seen surprised reaction from students and teachers when presented with the high-flying opportunities in the food sector.”

MacPherson cited the new government Trailblazer apprenticeship funding scheme as a good potential opportunity for the food and drink sector. And he highlighted the dairy industry’s Project Eden as another promising initiative. Supported by the National Skills Academy and Dairy UK, this is aimed at developing tomorrow’s operational leaders.

Critical to future success

“Equally, the skilling up of engineering talent in the food and drink sector must concentrate on people skills as much as technical ability,”​ said MacPherson. “Moving people quickly into management positions will be critical to ensure the future success of the organisation and to keep the talent pipeline flowing.”

MacPherson recognised that while the big players, such as Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola Enterprises and Britvic, already operated successful apprenticeship schemes, more small and medium-sized enterprises needed to get involved if they were to achieve productivity gains by upskilling their workforces.

However, he accepted that small firms often lacked the necessary support structures and mentoring provision required and pointed them towards the employer-led Skills Council for Science, Engineering and Manufacturing Technologies resource to get help.

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