Food has always been a preoccupation for the UK – and with good reason. Every morning when we wake up, our minds inevitably turn to one of the great questions of the day – what’s for breakfast?
The agrifood industry has a rightful place in the hearts and minds of the population. It contributes more to the UK economy than the automotive and aerospace industries combined.
In 2017, food and drink businesses alone had a turnover of £196bn and generated more than £10bn for HM Treasury, with exports exceeding £22bn – 60% of which were traded with the EU. Yet, this highly diverse sector desperately lacks human capital.
Ongoing skills shortage
With Brexit looming, there has never been a better time to get to grips with the challenges of the UK’s ongoing skills shortage and skills underutilisation. After all, a 2017 report by the Food and Drink Federation suggests the industry will experience the largest growth of any sector in the UK, and will need more than 140,000 new recruits by 2024.
We all need to invest in developing knowledge and skills to deliver the innovation that companies will need to demonstrate in the current business environment.
Firms that are short of skills lose business to competitors, and the UK agrifood sector is already losing out, with other countries such as the US powering past us.
Helping the sector equip itself
To address this, the AgriFood Training Partnership (AFTP) has been developed with the backing of industry to understand how crucial ongoing training is, and how flexibility and technological innovation are paramount to helping the sector equip itself to be competitive in a global marketplace.
With challenge comes opportunity, and this might just be the catalyst needed to change perceptions and attract young, innovative and creative people to serve the UK with food and drink in the years ahead.
Carol Wagstaff is AFTP director and professor of crop quality for health at the University of Reading.