Terry Fennell, chief executive at training awarding body FDQ, was part of a panel at the show debating automation in a session entitled ‘Stealing our jobs – can robots solve the skills crisis?’ He said sometimes humans and robots couldn’t live without each other on the production line.
Using poultry processor Faccenda as an example, Fennell said: “In some areas the automation is needed in things like weighing and sizing to a specific level – the systems are able to do it to precision.
‘Working hand in hand’
“But in other areas you absolutely need the knife skills and you need the people skills to make that product absolutely to the right size and weight as well. I see food firms going forward as it has been for many years – automation, robotics and people working hand in hand.”
Chartered Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors chief executive Stephen Barraclough believed the use of automation would create more highly skilled jobs in the food and drink industry.
“With automated systems, things often don’t go wrong, but sometimes they can and in order to sort things out quickly you need a team of highly skilled people,” said Barraclough.
‘Jobs humans shouldn’t be doing’
“Those are the kinds of jobs we should be thinking about creating and removing the jobs that interface too closely with robotics, or jobs that humans shouldn’t be doing.”
Meanwhile, the UK food industry’s desire to keep old machines running for as long as possible has hampered its progress on automation compared to European neighbours, an expert panel at last month’s Foodex claimed.