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Appetite for success

Justine Fosh, Chief Executive of the National Skills Academy for Food & Drink (NSAFD), outlines the Academy’s work to encourage young people to take up careers in the food and drink industry.

The food and drink sector in the UK accounts for 13% of all UK manufacturing jobs. The sector is facing a skills crisis: the industry needs to recruit to fill 109,000 jobs by 2022. The skills gap in the wider manufacturing sector has been well documented, but attention has largely been focused on other sectors, such as mechanical and automotive engineering. However, the food and drinks sector is a very large component of UK manufacturing, representing 15% of all manufacturing output in the UK. Despite its lower profile, the industry offers varied and exciting career opportunities.

The challenge to the sector is two-fold, firstly we must attract the next generation of food scientists and technicians to the industry and then we have to ensure those individuals are equipped with the necessary skills, support and training to enable them to make a meaningful contribution. The National Skills Academy for Food & Drink (NSAFD) passionately supports both these causes and
exists to provide businesses across the UK’s food and drink manufacturing and processing industry with a single source of access to leading edge workforce training, vocational study and skill upgrades designed to boost productivity, innovation, profitability and growth.

NSAFD acts as the industry’s voice to Government on strategic skills issues and works closely with a range of key industry stakeholders and partners to deliver its mission of making the food and drink industry in the UK the best in the world. As part of its commitment to encourage new entrants into the sector, NSAFD has invested heavily to attract both graduates and school leavers to careers in food processing, developing new degree courses and apprenticeships and engaging directly with schools and universities. NSAFD understands that skills and talent underpin the success of the food processing industry, but securing the skilled workforce we need for a successful future presents a series of challenges.

Skills shortages have been an ongoing concern for the food and drink sector, which urgently needs new entrants to replace an ageing workforce. As a sector, we’ve been hit hard by the nationwide lack of students taking degrees in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) and our low profile and relatively poor image, means we struggle to compete against other industries to secure the best graduates. In early 2013, a survey of more than 750 food and drink professionals by recruitment consultant JAM highlighted the scale of the challenge. Almost half said their company struggled to find candidates with the right skills, while the same proportion felt that the sector’s greatest challenge over the next ten years would be young people leaving education without the necessary skills for work.Dairy apprentices

In addition, although the food and drink industry offers a broad range of rewarding careers, some surveys have indicated that many graduates would not even consider a career in the food and drink industry and that the vast majority are unaware of the career opportunities available. In essence, our industry is facing an image crisis. NSAFD has spent the last 12 months helping the industry to make food and drink a career destination of choice for the brightest and the best young talent, by giving young people access to food and drink scientists and technicians and helping businessesto equip staff with the tools they need to boost productivity and innovation. Targeted advertising of an ambassador programme and social media outreach provide direct links to live job opportunities and details of the necessary study options.The Ambassador Outreach scheme  allows schools and colleagues to request a careers talk from local food or drink processing businesses.

Another key part of this activity has been the launch of Tasty Careers, an industry wide platform to encourage talented young people into food and drink manufacturing. Brands including Britvic, Nestlé UK&I and 2 Sisters Food Group have signed up as Business Members of the Tasty Careers programme. As part of this Business Membership scheme, companies are entitled to send two young employees on a free-of-charge two day residential course to boost their presentation skills, equipping them with the necessary skills to go out into their local schools and communities and raise the profile of food and drink careers. Members are also able to post apprenticeships, graduate and work experience opportunities free of charge.

NSAFD has taken a central role in the development of cross-industry initiatives to enhance food and drink skills, including the development of the UK’s first degree dedicated to food engineering at Sheffield Hallam University and the establishment of a centre of excellence for the dairy sector at Reaseheath College in Cheshire, called Project Eden. The dairy industry in the UK has been absolutely transformed by the introduction of new technology, new processes and increased automation. Supported by NSAFD and Dairy UK, Project Eden was launched with the aim of enabling UK based companies to train their staff to become tomorrow’s dairy leaders.

An industry steering group has developed a dedicated state of the art dairy training facility at Reaseheath College, along with a new curriculum designed to provide employees with a broad education in dairy over three years combining on and off the job training. The training programme covers all aspects of dairy technology, including practical hands on craft skills, key science principles associated with dairy and process improvement techniques required to run an efficient modern dairy operation. The curriculum has been designed by the dairy industry to reflect what we need now and in the future. Crucially, the programme is about developing employees with a passion for dairy who see the food and drink industry as a career of choice and who will develop both expertise and a real commitment to the industry. Employees graduate from the programme with a Foundation Degree – a nationally recognised qualification.

Employer-led groups are instigating a number of significant changes to apprenticeships in England under the Government’s Trailblazer initiative. NSAFD has played a pivotal role in the coordination of Trailblazer Apprenticeship reform in Food & Drink Quality Assurance, Production Development and Food Science with the active participation of a number of big brands, such as 2 Sisters Food Group, Nestlé UK & Ireland Ltd and Warburtons. A new Trailblazer apprenticeship standard for Food Engineering & Maintenance has already been approved by the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills (BIS) after being set by an industry group supported by NSAFD; the new apprenticeships are expected to commence from September 2016.

Our industry has changed dramatically over the last 20 years. There is now increased pressure for better food safety measures, improvements to food quality, changing regulatory requirements, new emerging technologies and processes, not to mentio consumers’ growing appetite for new product innovations, issues of traceability and global sourcing. This has placed a demand for a wide range of skills on our workforce. With no sign of the pace of change slowing in the industry, there is a need for continual skills development.

Since ‘food and drink’ is not seen as a priority sector, austerity measures mean that provision of vital programmes is in decline and, despite being one of the larger employers, the food and drink sector will continue to lose out to ‘sexier’ industries, such as automotive. As a result, it is imperative that businesses work collaboratively and take full advantage of the training resources that are available to them. The food and drink industry needs to take measures to ‘grow its own’ skilled workforce. NSAFD provides businesses across the UK’s food and drink manufacturing and processing industry with dedicated support and a single source gateway to both ‘off-the-shelf’ and bespoke training geared to individual business needs, location and work area.

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