That was the overriding view of the panel speakers during the Big Video Debate on Apprenticeships: plugging the skills gap, held at last month’s Foodex show at the National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham, and organised by the Food Manufacture Group.
Justine Fosh, chief executive of the National Skills Academy for Food & Drink, revealed that the latest shortfall of skilled workers in the industry was likely to be revised up from 107,000 to 130,000 people between now and by 2025.
She claimed apprenticeships “absolutely” had a role to play in helping to bridge the gap, both in terms of attracting future talent and upskilling the existing workforce.
“To be credible, apprenticeships have got to be respected by the industry and desired by young people. And the more business-driven they are, the better those apprenticeships will be,” Fosh said.
‘Weren’t a silver bullet’
Jon Poole, chief executive of the Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST), suggested that while apprenticeships weren’t a “silver bullet”, a lack of available schemes was clearly a problem.
“We focus so much on promoting the food sector to young people, but actually it’s really difficult for them to find apprenticeships or any form of route in,” he said. “We've got to get far more employers offering apprenticeships, if they are going to be successful. This requires a big promotional job from business, as well as a platform for students to find those apprenticeships.”
Janette Graham, group technical learning and development manager at 2 Sisters Food Group (2SFG), agreed that apprenticeships played a part, “but not the only part”, in resolving the skills gap.
Graham, who is also chair of the food science group for the government's ‘Trailblazer’ apprenticeship scheme, believed the Apprenticeship Levy – due to be imposed on all businesses with a salary bill of more than £3M when it is introduced in April 2017 – will help drive up apprenticeships, because “businesses will want to utilise that funding”.
However, student and IFST supporter Sam Higginson said there was a “fundamental lack of awareness in young people” about food industry.
“For me, the industry needs to do more to generate public awareness while coming up with formal outreach programmes, not just at the degree level, but also for apprenticeships,” said Higginson.
William Reed, publisher of Food Manufacture, used the Foodex show to launch Appetite Learning with technology partner Virtual College. Appetite Learning is a set of online training courses designed to educate staff about the risks and responsibilities of handling food and drink.
Don’t miss video highlights of Food Manufacture’s Big Video Debate – Apprenticeships: plugging the skills gap – which took place on Tuesday April 19.