"

A multi-million pound "Academy" for the food and drink sector was launched yesterday as part of the government's ongoing programme to "upskill" the nation.

The National Skills Academy for "Food and Drink Manufacturing" is set to open in April 2007, catering for an estimated 28,000 learners in its first four years.

Funding for the £4.4 million project will largely come from employers, who provide 50% of the sponsorship; the government is set to fund 35%, with the rest coming from alternative means, including European funds.

Launching the new Academy, Skills Minister Phil Hope MP said: "I am delighted that the Food and Drink Manufacturing sector is represented in the growing network of National Skills Academies. It is vital that we continue to improve our capacity for learning by driving up skills levels in our home industries if we are to compete successfully in the global market".

Chairman of Improve, the Sector Skills Council for food and drink, Paul Wilkinson, said: "This is a major new landmark in the training provision for food and drink manufacturers. The National Skills Academy has been driven by employers" needs, has been designed by employers, and will be run by employers".

Training will be delivered through approved "Academy Training Centres", including the Grimsby Institute of Further and Higher Education, the University of Lincoln (Holbeach Campus), and Reaseheath College in Nantwich. Each will focus on a particular area of expertise, and more will be added as the Academy expands.

Jaine Clarke, LSC Director of Skills for Employers said: "Each National Skills Academy represents a major commitment by Government in the future skill needs of the economy. We are proud to have worked with Improve "“ the Sector Skills Council for Food and Drink Manufacturing "“ to deliver this important initiative. Employer commitment and sponsorship is key to the success of National Skills Academies and the benefits for UK employers are far reaching".

She added: "This is why companies such as Big Bear, Warburton's, Nestle UK and RHM have worked with Improve to create the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink Manufacturing. They believe that a highly trained and motivated workforce delivers improvements to productivity and performance".

Ultimately, the onus of the growing network of Academies rests with employers who influence the curriculum, set standards, help with the management of the centres and "shape their strategic direction".

Vijay Pattni.

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