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Developing ‘oven-ready’ graduates

Emma Weston, Associate Professor, Division of Food Sciences, University of Nottingham, initiated a research project in 2015 to explore what makes a ‘great graduate for the food industry’ and how educators can optimise curricula to facilitate this. She describes the progress to date.

Employers continue to outline the significant need to bring new recruits into the food industry for the future and food sciences graduates are a key part of this talent pipeline[1, 2, 3]. The aim of the project ‘Competencies for Food Graduate Careers’, developed in partnership with representatives from SMEs, retailers, manufacturers, R&D centres and higher education institutions, was to disseminate a competency framework tailored to typical technical career pathways for graduates entering the food industry[4] .

Forty-eight elements were identified and grouped into 8 themes (Figure 1) that identify not only knowledge but also a consistent and relevant set of behaviours and skills that are desirable in a food science graduate. A list of 14 typical graduate entry roles were also agreed by the industry stakeholder group (Figure 2).

An industry wide survey in early 2017 gathered data (from 226 respondents) about the most desirable elements for each of the 14 roles. After detailed statistical analysis of the responses, a white paper was released later in 2017 on the IFST website[5]. It clarifies the elements and themes that are most desired for each of the roles using infographic posters to display the results (Figure 3). However, gathering this information was only the first stage of the project.

Over recent months the results of the Competencies for Food Graduate Careers project have started to be utilised. They have been integrated into final year undergraduate teaching at Nottingham, aiming to increase understanding of career pathways and allow preparation for job application and selection processes. Students have positively engaged with the new material, finding it very useful. Feedback from the students suggests that ‘Information is clear to understand and included all the competencies and skills that are required for the job roles. A wide range of roles are covered and details are very in-depth and useful for building up your CV and preparing for interviews.’

Cardiff Metropolitan University has also introduced Competencies for Food Graduate Careers to all year groups studying Food Science and Technology degrees this year to assist them in planning and direction.

Dr Anita Setarehnejad explains, ‘Using this knowledge, students can prepare themselves for the career they would like to be in and focus on relevant module choices while studying at university.’ The University has also utilised the resource in core teaching activities, such as investigating the qualities that are desirable in a sensory panel leader.

The next phase of the project, a full mapping exercise of the competency elements against the course programmes at Nottingham, has now been completed. This will allow courses to be refined to include the optimum competency development opportunities for students during their study.

At Nottingham we believe we have a duty to provide a top quality science degree, but also to support growth of broader more applied competencies that graduates will need to succeed in their first roles in industry. Finding out what industry really wants in Food Science graduates was the first stage. Now we are utilising this knowledge to ensure our courses are aligned to real needs and our students are better informed about career options. Based on their own interests and strengths, they are now better prepared for success in interviews. Working with other universities on this project and providing an online resource for all to use demonstrates our commitment to supporting wider development of industry-ready graduates.

An interactive online tool for all students to explore the types of competencies that are desirable for typical graduate roles and how their personal skills may be best matched to them is due for launch in early summer 2018 on the Nottingham University website. This tool will be accessible for students already studying Food Science related degrees at university, but also for prospective students finishing their schooling, who are interested in finding out about the exciting careers that the food industry offers. Once the tool is live, a link will be added to the IFST website.



Figure 3 Example of One of the Role Infographics

Emma Weston

Associate Professor and Admissions Tutor

Division of Food Sciences, School of Biosciences, University of Nottingham, Sutton Bonington Campus, Loughborough, LE12 5RD Tel 0115 951 6214

Email: emma.weston@

IFST Competencies for Food Graduate Careers webpage: competencies-food-graduate-careers

After 14 years’ experience in the food industry, Emma joined the University of Nottingham in 2009 and has a passion for making her graduates ‘oven ready’. Emma specialises in translating Food Science principles into realistic modern manufacturing and retail applications for students. She is also responsible for the problem based learning teaching aspects within other course structures and is the Lead for Employability within the School of Biosciences. She is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of Institute of Food Science and Technology.


  1. Food and Drink Federation. (2018). Our industry in pictures.
  2. Wakeham, W. (2016). Wakeham Review of STEM Degree Provision and Graduate Employability. Retrieved from Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, London:
  3. National Centre for Universities and Business. (2015). Leading Food 4.0 / Growing University-Business Collaboration for the UK’s Food Economy.
  4. Weston, E., Crilly, J., Mossop, L., & Foster, T. (2017). Competencies for food graduate careers: developing a language tool. Higher Education Pedagogies, 2(1), 101-115. doi:10.1080/23752696.2017.1366275
  5. Weston, E. (2017) Competencies for Food Graduate Careers. Retrieved from
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