Skills boss sets out scale of food industry challenge

By Michael Stones contact

- Last updated on GMT

Food manufacturers should not target competitors' workers as a means of plugging the skills gap
Food manufacturers should not target competitors' workers as a means of plugging the skills gap

Related tags: Sisters food group, Industry, Food and drink

The boss of the National Skills Academy for Food & Drink (NSAFD) set out the scale of the challenge facing the food and drink manufacturing industry at the organisation’s Food & Drink Skills Conference this week.

“At best we are ignored, at worst we are not considered to be an industry of choice,”​ NSAFD chief executive Justine Fosh told the conference attended by more than 60 global food and drink brands – including: Nestlé UK and Ireland, Britvic, Princes, 2 Sisters Food Group, Kellogg and McCain.

A measure of the challenge facing the sector was that it needed to recruit 107,000 people by 2025.

The conference was used to launch the new food and drink industry engineering apprenticeship, as part of the government’s ‘Trailblazer’ programme.

Mix of engineering and food technology

John Griffiths, engineering director at international food and drink group Princes, and chair of the steering group which developed the new Trailblazer, highlighted its mix of engineering and food technology skills, resulting in a complementary Level 3 Diploma qualification. 

Princes welcomed the new apprenticeships as a good alternative to other apprenticeships currently available, which have not been developed with the food and drink industry in mind, he said.

Acknowledging competition for young talent between food and drink manufacturers, Griffiths warned that brand owners targeting each other’s employees, as a means of remedying the shortage of skilled candidates, was “not sustainable.”

Targeting each other’s employees

‘Talent pool’

“We urgently need a higher level of industry engagement. We need to create a rich pool of talent if our sector is ever to be comparable to automotive or aerospace.”

  • John Griffiths, Princes 

Manufacturers should support food and drink industry apprenticeships, he urged. “We urgently need a higher level of industry engagement. We need to create a rich pool of talent if our sector is ever to be comparable to automotive or aerospace.”

Janette Graham, group technical learning and development manager at 2 Sisters Food Group, said  the industry needed to start offering attractive career paths in order to attract the best.

Graham will be speaking at the Food Manufacture Group’s Big Video Debate on skills at the Foodex event at the National Exhibition Centre, near Birmingham between 11.30 and 12.30 on Tuesday April 19. See box below for more details.

Jill Coyle, apprenticeship programme lead at Nestlé UK and Ireland, urged the food and drink sector to work together to meet the skills challenge.

Food and drink manufacturing continued to suffer from an image problem in attracting new talent, she said. To deal with the skills crisis, commercial sensitivities must be left at the door to achieve a collaborative approach.

“Collectively, we are more than double the size of the automotive sector and by working together we have scale. We need to bring the industry closer together on the skills agenda to form a stronger voice,”​ said Coyle.

Fosh concluded: “The clear message from all the speakers was that we must work together if we are to solve the very serious crisis facing our industry. The NSAFD is here to support the food and drink sector in addressing the skills gaps that constrain productivity, and to encourage a new generation into the sector by improving our image among all stakeholders.”

Read more about the new apprenticeship here​.

Big Video Debate on apprenticeships at Foodex

The Food Manufacture Group is staging a Big Video Debate on apprenticeships at the Foodex trade event on Tuesday April 19, between 11.30am and 12.30pm.

Taking part in the panel discussion – Apprenticeships: plugging the skills gap – will be a range of industry experts. Confirmed speakers include: Jon Poole, ceo, Institute of Food Science & Technology and Janette Graham, group technical learning and development manager at 2 Sisters Food Group.

For more information, email Mike Stones​.

Meanwhile, Foodex 2016 – the premier trade event for the food and drink processing, packaging, ingredients and logistics industries – will take place at the National Exhibition Centre, Birmingham, between April 18–20.

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1 comment

Negative Stigmas

Posted by Alex Eshelby,

As a young professional (23) who recently graduated from university, I can say that the food industry was not one I considered, more one I fell into.

However having now been in the industry for a couple of years, I can see across the companies I have worked so far, that the talent pool is limited - but that job prospects for myself have been excellent as a result of companies 'targeting' me.

There is a negative stigma attached to the food industry of shift work and manufacturing being long and strenuous - which it is. It can also be highly rewarding (in remunerative and developmental terms); I do not envy my peers who participate in the 9-5 rush to work equally long hours to feel undervalued and under appreciated in these so called 'desirable' jobs.

I have felt somewhat stifled in the past when I had felt ready to try something different, but the lack of flexibility in graduate schemes and rigidity/slowness of progression had left me questioning whether it was right for me.

After a change of jobs, I am still in the food industry, now earning more than my peers in banking / consultancy and thoroughly enjoy what I do.

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