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'Worst skills crisis in our lifetime' - Avara Foods's Brodie

By Rod Addy

- Last updated on GMT

Brodie: 'The current issues require immediate short term solutions'
Brodie: 'The current issues require immediate short term solutions'

Related tags Training & recruitment

The food industry faces 'the worst skills crisis in our lifetime', according to Andrew Brodie, Avara Foods people and communications director, one of the participants in Food Manufacture's 9 September webinar tackling the issue.

Speaking to Food Manufacture​, Brodie said: "This is not a temporary labour issue. It is a structural change in the UK labour market that will take years to play out.

"This is the worst skills crisis in our lifetime and is resulting in shortages across the food sector, as being reported on a daily basis in the national media."

Brodie's comments coincide with the publication of a major new report from Grant Thornton​ claiming that of 953,000 current vacancies across all sectors in the UK, more than half are in the food and drink sector. The report - Establishing the labour availability issues of the UK food and drink sector​ - argues the Government's approach to the crisis facing food and drink processors is fundamentally flawed. The industry needs to be prioritised, it states, as it employs more than 4.1 million people, making it bigger than the automotive and aerospace sectors combined, and contributing more than £120bn to the UK economy.

The report makes two key recommendations to Government to immediately address the problem. It calls for a 12-month COVID-19 Recovery Visa and urges ministers to revisit the Shortage Occupation List and add to it skilled workers that cannot be replaced overnight, such as butchers and HGV drivers, enabling migrants with such skills to get visas.

Food Manufacture ​is holding a free webinar, sponsored by Aptean​ on 9 September from 3pm to 4pm UK time to tackle this hot topic, entitled How to boost food manufacturing productivity in a skills crisis​. Sign up now​ to hear key experts, including Brodie offer advice and support.

Brodie said the situation was primarily caused 'by a shrinking in the UK labour pool, particularly in certain sectors, which are key for food supply'.

"While it has been exacerbated by furlough and COVID, it is due to a exodus of EU citizens back to their home country that, due to immigration restrictions now in place, cannot be replaced by immigration.

"Changes to the Apprentice levy and more Government support for the food sector through the Lifetime Skills Guarantee would help to develop the necessary skills in the UK workforce. Longer term, automation and greater use of technology is the only way forward.

"However, these will not alleviate the current issues which require some immediate short term solutions including temporary relaxation of rules around immigration and key food roles promoted to the skills shortage occupation list, particularly primary processing, butchery and transport and logistics."

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