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Degree Apprenticeship addresses shortage of food technologists

Sharon Green from the National Centre for Food Manufacturing at the University of Lincoln, one of the universities involved in developing the Degree Apprenticeship programme, explains how the apprenticeships will bring together the best of higher education and vocational training to plug the skills gap in food manufacturing.

Apprenticeship reform

Thanks to an injection of Government funding to develop Degree Apprenticeships, young people will have greater opportunity to forge a career within the food industry and benefit from being able to ‘earn while they learn’ as degree level career paths become established in the sector.

Degree Apprenticeships are a result of the Government’s commitment to grow apprenticeship participation, particularly at the higher levels, and to put employers at the helm of apprenticeships by involving them directly in the design of new programmes through the introduction of the apprenticeship levy. From April 2017, large eligible businesses will pay a levy to support apprenticeship training. Smaller businesses are expected to indirectly benefit from the levy too. Employers are therefore keen to use the opportunity afforded by the levy to address specific skill shortages, such as those experienced in Quality and Technical Management roles.

Designed by employers in collaboration with universities and professional bodies, the new Degree Apprenticeships will provide the higher level skills needed by employers, while offering young people an alternative to the traditional degree course. Degree Apprenticeships will enable more people to study in higher education and work at the same time, as they can access flexible programmes provided by universities supported by distance learning.

Degree Apprenticeships will provide the high-tech and higher level skills needed by employers, while offering young people a valuable alternative to the traditional degree course."

National Centre for Food Manufacturing

The ty of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing (NCFM) has secured a share of the Government’s £4.5 million Degree Apprenticeship Development Fund to help ensure the sector has the relevant Degree and Higher Apprenticeships in place when the levy is introduced. It is leading a pioneering project to develop the food industry’s first Degree Apprenticeships. NCFM is working with project partners – Sheffield Hallam University’s National Centre of Excellence in Food Engineering and the National Skills Academy for Food & Drink (NSAFD) – to develop and deliver Degree Apprenticeship programmes for the key occupations of Food Engineering, Operations Management and Technical Management roles, launching from September 2017.

NCFM is a satellite campus of the University of Lincoln, specialising in part-time further and higher education for the food industry. The staff at NCFM have experience of working in the food industry and in supporting part-time learners; they understand the demands faced by food industry employees who are studying while working and often balancing family commitments at the same time. To meet these needs, NCFM has developed a range of apprenticeships and higher education programmes which are underpinned by flexible study options. The majority of the 110 individuals enrolled on NCFM’s Food Manufacturing degrees are employed in Quality and Technical Management roles and are studying on this specialist pathway.

The Food Industry Technical Professional Degree Apprenticeship is a four-year programme which embeds a BSc (Hons) Food Science and Technology degree alongside a structured work-based training programme. This combination provides an attractive career path for individuals wishing to progress into technical professional roles including Assistant Food Technical Managers, Quality Managers, Shift Quality Managers, Hygiene Managers, Product Innovation and Development Technologists. Ensuring the safety and quality of food products is at the core of this Degree Apprenticeship.

Support from the sector

The Government’s drive to grow Degree Apprenticeships has been well received by food industry employers. The food and drink industry represents the single largest manufacturing sector in the UK, contributing more than £100 billion to the national economy. The sector is highly innovative and is already adopting many advanced technologies which require ready access to higher level skills.

By blending high-quality workplace training with part-time, flexible degree level study, these programmes are specifically designed to address this need. With the food and drink manufacturing industry at the forefront of this new way of training, there is confidence that the valuable combination of practical experience and higher education will both attract young talent and reward and enhance the abilities of existing employees.

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and many leading food businesses, including Nestle, 2 Sisters Food Group, Princes and Moy Park, are directly supporting the development of NCFM’s Degree Apprenticeship programmes. Angela Coleshill, the Competitiveness Director at the FDF, has explained that the food and drink industry will need 130,000 new recruits by 2024 to meet the sector’s skills needs. The FDF believes that this type of collaborative working between industry and educational institutions will provide the next generation of advanced engineers and leaders.

Collaboration is key

The University of Lincoln’s NCFM offers employer-driven further and higher education for food science and technology based roles; the introduction of the new Degree Apprenticeships builds on the success of existing Advanced Apprenticeships, Higher Apprenticeships, undergraduate and post graduate courses. Its nationally accredited Advanced and Higher Apprenticeship work-based programmes already support employers by providing professional qualifications to all ages and abilities in food science and technology related job roles.

With long-established industry relationships and a range of vocational short courses, the team at NCFM aims to ensure that everyone – from new starters through to existing employees – can access relevant study and training options. By accessing additional short courses, for example the IFST’s Sensory evaluation, individuals can further their own careers and provide the higher level skills the sector demands, in terms of technical knowledge, professional abilities and wider business competencies.

The team at NCFM has been involved in a number of employer consultations to provide guidance to businesses and ensure the courses on offer are meeting industry needs. Contact from companies looking to find out more about the Food Industry Technical Professional Degree Apprenticeship is welcomed.

Cutting-edge facilities

As well as working with leading employers in the food and drink industry, the Degree Apprentices will benefit from access to cutting-edge facilities at NCFM. From its base in Holbeach in southern Lincolnshire, NCFM provides expertise on industry needs and hosts pioneering research, development and training projects in a model food manufacturing plant.

A new Centre of Excellence in Agri-food is also planned, which will house larger food microbiology and chemistry laboratories, together with an upgraded test kitchen and sensory suite, a learning resource centre and accommodation for seminars and business networking events. The imminent expansion of the University’s facilities also represents the first stage of development for the new Food Enterprise Zone in Holbeach. In recent years, the University of Lincoln’s work for the agri-food industry has focused on research in robotics and automation for the sector. NCFM is home to the pioneering APRIL (Automated Processing Robotic Ingredient Loading) system, which has been developed by OAL. APRIL is a ‘robotic chef’ that combines cutting-edge food processing technologies with proven robotic systems to produce high-quality food on an industrial scale (p18).

The Government’s drive to grow Degree Apprenticeships has been well received by food industry employers."

Changing times

The industry is experiencing momentous change as the living wage and other drivers of cost inflation fuel the large-scale adoption of advanced technologies that require ready access to higher level skills. An acute shortage of these skills is already presenting a significant challenge to the sector so attracting new talent and upskilling existing workforces is absolutely crucial.

At the heart of the Government’s apprenticeship reforms is the drive for greater employer ‘ownership’. The involvement and leadership of food businesses from across the industry will ensure that apprenticeships at all levels deliver the required knowledge, skills and behaviours.


Sharon Green is Deputy Head and Lead for Apprenticeships and Business Partnerships at the University of Lincoln’s National Centre for Food Manufacturing

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