Born between 1996 and 2010, ‘zoomers’ (Gen Z) are now beginning to enter the world of work or make decisions about their future careers.
As such it is important that businesses within food and drink manufacturing understand how to appeal to them – especially at a time where skill shortages are causing undue pressure.
The general feeling within the food and drink sector is that Gen Z doesn’t consider food and drink production as a career prospect, nor are they aware of the options available in this industry. Therefore it is incumbent upon today’s leaders to shift this narrative.
Few industries are as important as food and drink manufacturing; after all we die if we cannot eat. However, without a motivated and skilled workforce ready to take up the roles that are now coming available, the industry, and by extension our wider society and economy, is placed in a perilous situation.
Yesterday’s event has provided some hope though, and left attendees with plenty to consider when advertising jobs and looking to attract staff in the future. Here are some of the key takeaways.
Open up the range of possibilities
Panellists and attendees agreed that the food industry needs to showcase the pathways and opportunities for progression that exist for young people. If Gen Z staff members are keen to make decisions and drive change, it is important to provide them the training and autonomy they need. This support and empowerment helps motivate younger employees and can perhaps guide them into future managerial and technical roles. Panellists also concurred that manufacturers need to ensure that their young employees feel respected and trusted in the workplace, as this will be boost motivation and the likelihood of retaining them long term.
Meanwhile, the panel felt it was critical to present the full range of opportunities that the food and drink sector can offer. This might be achieved with a rotation programme whereby new starters gain experience in different parts of the business during their induction, or through marketing that effectively communicates the scope of the industry, such as international travel and the opportunity for career progression.
The creative nature of roles in new product development is another asset that the panel felt needs to be emphasised. The industry needs to reconnect with the joy and excitement that food and drink provides people all around the world, and recontextualise inaccurate and damaging characterisations that may have formed. Numerous attendees used the word “exciting” when describing the roles on offer, but it seems this message has not been heard by zoomers.
Education is key in attracting Gen Z
In order to raise awareness of everything the industry has to offer, several panellists agreed that food education in schools needs to be improved. With the food technology A Level no longer offered by sixth form colleges, firms need to find new and innovative ways to create a love of food in young people. It was agreed that an onus must be placed on the Government to emphasise the importance of a food education from an early age, given the central role it plays in all of our lives on a daily basis.
Panellists and attendees also felt that careers education in schools is lacking and urged firms to look into creating a collective service that helps showcase the industry. This could include trips to factories and experiential learning programmes that take students outside of the classroom and show them what a day in the life of someone in the food industry looks like in a practical and tangible way.
The role of food and drink firms could also include visiting schools to run sessions or sponsoring events that Gen Z graduates attend. It was suggested that social media could be an effective way of communicating with such a tech-savvy generation, although this must be done skilfully and in a way that actually resonates.
One panellist emphasised the importance of speaking to young people using online polls or events to ask what they think about the future and their career prospects. This direct feedback can be so useful in designing programmes and job adverts that are more informed and targeted.
Learn from Gen Z
Several speakers during the discussion pointed out the need to avoid making assumptions or generalisations about Gen Z. While they are the first digitally native generation, that does not mean that every zoomer wants to work in technology or in online content creation.
Additionally, when working with younger members of staff, senior staff should listen to what they have to say and value the importance of having a new set of eyes look at a problem. While a system may have been in place for a long time, that does not mean it is necessarily fit for purpose, and the same can be said for a workplace’s culture or values. It is important to listen and not dismiss the ideas of Gen Z employees, even when they are not practical or feasible.
This focus on learning from Gen Z also extends to issues such as climate change, biodiversity and hunger. The food industry has such power and influence to deliver positive change in these areas and young people need to be a part of this mission. By joining the sector, they can help lead hugely impactful initiatives and support companies in changing their operations in a way that is better for people and the planet – a cause which resonates which many of today’s youth.
The Business Leaders' Forum October 2023 event was sponsored by the Welsh Government, E.ON and Accruent.
System level thinking
While the food and drink sector is certainly facing a skills shortage, the same can be said for much of the manufacturing industry. As a result, collaboration and system level thinking is required, rather than firms solely focusing on the issues they face internally.
Influencing government policy and widespread collaboration between businesses is difficult to achieve, but manufacturers do have the power to address the situation if they work together, even at the lowest level. All the panellists emphasised that using the resources that are available, pooling insight and passing on experience from firm to firm would help the entire food sector and the wider manufacturing industry solve this problem.
If competitors work together the whole industry can grow and all businesses can benefit. However, if future planning and system level thinking is discarded in favour of short-term gain, issues such as this will continue to worsen.