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Inspiring the next generation

IFST Education and Careers Forum

Andrew Gardner reports on IFST’s first Education & Careers Forum held at Food Matters Live in November 2018.

With Food Matters Live as a backdrop, IFST hosted the first of its new Education & Careers Forums in November, chaired by Prof Richard Frazier. The Forum attracted representatives from across the sector for an update on T-levels (new technical qualifications for 16-19 year olds), apprenticeships, food graduate competences and the plans of the new Food Skills Sector Council.

Updating on the introduction of T-levels, Janette Graham, 2 Sisters Food Group Technical Learning and Development Lead, explained that they are intended to change the technical education landscape, putting in place a more consistent framework for industry-focused qualifications. They aim to prepare students for entry into skilled employment and are based on the occupational standards (level 3) being developed by the Institute of Apprenticeships (IoA). The first students are due to commence training from September 2020 with food science students starting from 2021, and qualifying in 2023. The training will be classroom delivered over two years by an FE provider, with a requirement for 20% on the job training.

IoA has formed 16 T-level panels of employers, professional bodies and providers to define the knowledge, skills and behaviours required in each occupation: food sciences sit within the health and science route. Once the outline content has been agreed, IoA will find an awarding organisation to translate content into a qualification for Further Education (FE) providers to deliver. There will be one awarding body for each of the 16 routes.

Delivering the 45-day industry placement for students in their second year of study will be one of the greatest challenges to the introduction of T-levels, especially as apprenticeships have not had the expected level of uptake by industry. Supervision and transport issues are also among the challenges being addressed.

The Department of Education (DoE) is launching a communications campaign in 2019 to raise awareness of T-levels, increase understanding of how they contribute to wider education reform and build confidence in these qualifications among providers, parents, students and employers. The DoE held a consultation on draft proposals (which closed on 17 January 2019).

Forum attendees questioned the capacity of the FE sector to deliver the new qualifications and asked what the next steps for students would be. Geographical challenges were also acknowledged, in terms of uneven distribution of opportunities and transport for students in more rural settings. Asked about the challenge of finding good industry placements, Janette said that the sector was consistently identifying the need for more skilled talent so engaging in the placement programme was in its own interest - employers could view the industry placement as an extended 10-week interview.

Emma Weston, Associate Professor University of Nottingham, presented her work on the competences of food graduates, which had involved extensive engagement with the sector. The resulting White Paper identified 14 typical food career role entry points and mapped the competences needed for these roles. The competences have been published on the IFST website and the University of Nottingham has developed an open access online toolkit for students to explore the different roles available and the competences needed.

Emma reported that the project outputs were being shared among education providers, who were reviewing their programmes to ensure students were acquiring the most desirable competences - as defined by the sector. She said the sector too might want to review job roles in the light of the graduate competences.

In welcoming the initiative, Forum attendees thought it would be useful to position the work in the context of the range of career paths available, as people enter the sector from many different starting points. The loss of the Food ‘A‘ Level had left a gap in schools, not helped by the distance between science and food teaching. The new GCSE in Food Preparation and Nutrition had gone some way to bring food science into the classroom and IFST’s Love Food Love Science website for teachers was seen as a huge success. Attendees considered whether a toolkit setting out the routes into the sector would be helpful to students, teachers and parents.

Louise Codling, National Skills Academy for Food and Drink (NSAFD), updated the Forum on apprenticeships and NSAFD’s role in coordinating employer input. The apprenticeship standards had been in development since 2014, focused especially in areas where employers were reporting recruitment difficulties. Uptake of the Food Technology (level 3) and Food Industry Technical Professional (level 6) was low but increasing. The food and drink maintenance engineer programme (level 3) was predicted to have a better uptake.

Louise explained that one of the challenges to delivery of apprenticeships was finding providers. Existing providers were facing threats from new entrants, rationalisation, fallout from introduction of the levy and universities taking a more employer facing approach. In general, universities had grasped apprenticeship delivery well.

Louise reported that employer awareness about the apprenticeships was good, but SMEs did represent a market failure. There is a lack of uptake of apprenticeships in general and attendees were surprised by the very low utilisation of the levy by employers, at about 16%. Student awareness is improving enabling universities to require 2 As or A*s for entry to courses. NSAFD reports that the food and drink sector support for the apprenticeships published so far is good and plans are to embed these rather than develop new ones.

Forum attendees asked about the employment of degree apprentice graduates, and Louise said they were expecting 65% achievement rate. A representative from the university sector commented that providers will only enter the market if the business case stacks up. Other attendees noted that provision was thin in certain areas, the south west specifically.

Caroline Koehane, Food and Drink Federation Policy Manager, introduced the new Food and Drink Sector Council, chaired jointly by BIS (Ian Ferguson) and DEFRA (Sally Warren). The Council aims to improve productivity and sustainability, linking farm-to-fork chain with relevant government departments. It has eight workstreams: agricultural productivity, innovation, logistics, nutrition, workforce, export and food & drink industry sector deal. FDF is leading on the workforce and skills workstream, which has the objectives of developing a coherent food chain voice, establishing a longterm​ action plan to deliver a highly motivated workforce and securing government support to implement the plan.

Fiona Kendrick (Nestle UK & Ireland) is the Workforce Project lead, supported by core members from industry bodies, government departments, retailers, producers, hospitality and higher education, as well as a wider consultative group.

The workforce group is planning to address the size and distribution of the sector (being composed of many SMEs), its image (low skilled, low tech, low pay), skill shortages and low apprenticeship numbers. Brexit (20% EU nationals employed in the UK work in food and drink) and digitisation (£55.8bn potential value to sector by implementing ‘known’ digital technologies) also present new challenges and opportunities. The workforce group has established three task groups looking at apprenticeships, future workforce planning and upskilling the workforce.

The issue of the food and drink sector image is a complex one. One key problem is the number of competing initiatives designed to tackle this: the challenge to government is to help industry navigate these initiatives.

Government and the Council are looking at:

• increasing the number of apprenticeships and T-level placements in industry;

• finding mechanisms to offer smaller business the opportunity to benefit from the levy;

• ensuring employers are aware of the 20% off-the-job training requirements;

• encouraging collaboration to allow business to access STEM-related standards;

• sharing clear messaging around career campaigns across the sector.

The Council is asking the Government to:

• run an apprenticeship campaign to change perceptions and raise awareness that apprenticeships can be suitable for upskilling too;

• find new ways to allow the levy to be spent on employees (especially when involving the devolved nations);

• put in place a future immigration policy that works for the food chain.

Longer term ambitions could well include making food a recognised career route rather than splitting it across hospitality, manufacturing and science, and making the T-level a broad curriculum option before specialising in a specific food occupation.

Summarising the contributions, Prof Frazier said that finding solutions to some of the challenges faced by the sector would depend on bringing people together, making bodies like IFST and FDSC even more important. Key themes were emerging around regional issues, geographical provision and the devolved countries. Also there is a need to capitalise on young people’s interest and excitement about food and to encourage them to consider the different routes into the sector in a more coordinated way (perhaps through case studies). That FDSC is asking the Government to help with the image of the sector is important too – one suggestion was for a high profile social media campaign and an Instagram-friendly ambassador. The difficulty of engaging SMEs in workforce and skills was also highlighted and Prof Frazier thought IFST and others could make a start by reaching out to some of the larger SMEs.

If you would like to contribute to IFST education and careers activities or attend the next Forum, please contact Andrew Gardner.

Andrew Gardner, IFST Operations Director



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