Brands unite to discuss skills crisis

Organised by the National Skills Academy for Food & Drink (NSAFD), the Food & Drink Skills Conference, held earlier this month, was attended by delegates of more than 60 global food and drink brands.

Companies included Britvic, Nestle UK&I, Princes, 2 Sisters Food Group, Kellogg’s and McCain – and saw the NSAFD launch the new Food & Drink Engineering Maintenance (FDEM) apprenticeship, as part of the UK government’s Trailblazer programme.

Top of the agenda for the day was the recruitment and skills crisis facing the food and drink sector. Opening the conference, NSAFD chief executive Justine Fosh said that the sector needed to recruit 107,000 people by 2025 but that, at present, as a sector, “at best we are ignored, at worst we are not considered to be an industry of choice”.

John Griffiths, engineering director at Princes and chair of the steering group which developed the new Trailblazer, talked through the new FDEM Trailblazer course, which combines a mix of engineering and food technology skills, resulting in a complementary Level 3 Diploma qualification.

He acknowledged that there was a degree of competition between the assembled delegates, but said that the current situation, where brands target each other’s employees because of a shortage of skilled candidates, was ‘not sustainable.’ He urged other companies to get involved in the development of apprenticeships for the food and drink industry. “We urgently need a higher level of industry engagement,” he noted. “We need to create a rich pool of talent if our sector is ever to be comparable to automotive or aerospace.”

Janette Graham, group technical learning and development manager at 2 Sisters Food Group, echoed his sentiment. Graham talked through the new Food Science Technologist Trailblazer and said that the industry needed to start offering attractive career paths in order to attract the best.

Jill Coyle, apprenticeship programme lead at Nestle UK&I, pointed to the importance of the food and drink sector working together to deal with its skills challenges. The industry is suffering from an image problem in attracting new talent and, to deal with the skills crisis, commercial sensitivities must be left at the door to achieve a collaborative approach and address the issue, she explained.

“Collectively, we are more than double the size of the automotive sector and by working together we have scale. We need to bring the industry closer together on the skills agenda to form a stronger voice,” said Coyle.

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