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Industry Skills Council Predicts Widening Skills Gap in Food and Drink Manufacturing

A report published last week by Improve, the food and drink Sector Skills Council (SSC), will make yet more depressing reading for employers and recruiters in the food and drink industry.

The report points to the numerous problems currently affecting the sector ““ especially the worsening skills shortages and the recruitment and retention of staff. The report feels that this will be further exacerbated over the coming years with the resultant massive staff shortfall.

Jack Matthews, chief executive of Improve, presented the report to industry stakeholders at a meeting in London last Wednesday where he highlighted the challenges the industry will face over the next decade if the current staffing problems continue to go unchecked.

Recruitment Headache

The report predicts that without a radically effective initiative to reverse the skills shortage in the industry to significantly improve the supply of appropriately skilled staff, employers will see no let-up in the continuing recruitment headache. If no action is taken, the Improve paper suggests that the industry will have to recruit replacements for almost 200,000 employees ““ more than a quarter of their workforce ““ over the next seven years.

Mr Matthews explained that the vacancies would be created by retirements and other natural wastage as he told industry representatives that there was a real need to work to reverse the worsening trend. “It is to address this and similar skills issues that Improve has been formed by employers and employer organisations across our industry,” he said. “We are employer led, employer supported, and directly focused on meeting employer needs.”

Improve was established in July 2004 and is widely recognised as the leading authority on skill development in the UK Food and Drink Industry in the UK. It was formed to support employers in the Bakery, Brewery, Dairy, Distillery, Drinks Manufacturing, Food Manufacturing and Processing, Fresh Produce, Meat and Poultry, Seafood and Confectionery industries. The food and drink sector currently employs over 650,000 people across the UK and turning over £64 billion every year.

The Largest Sector

Mr Matthews reported that UK food and drink manufacturing has a turnover of £66 billion, contributing 17 per cent of the gross domestic product from all UK manufacturing, and making it the largest sector within the manufacturing base. Despite the skills shortages, the sector is already highly productive, being 22 per cent more productive than its USA competition, and 27 per cent more productive than the average of its EU neighbours.

“Maintaining and building on this advantage is a primary target for Improve, with our contribution focused on productivity increases through improving the level of skills and the skills base of our sector,” said Mr. Matthews. “This has been a momentous first year, which has seen tangible outcomes such as the launches of our Modern Apprenticeship Framework, and of the Green Card UK skills passport; the development of our Foundation Degree Framework; the launch of our Skills Xtra initiative in Scotland; and the extension of our Schools Challenge.

“We have made significant progress in the review and development of our National Occupational Standards; and we have commissioned research into skills issues such as the shortage of food scientists and technologists, and the skills and employment of overseas nationals, from which came our successful Cultural Diversity Programme.

“The next year will be equally challenging. Of particular significance will be the development of our Sector Skills Agreement covering the UK; our bid for and the securing of a National Skills Academy for food and drink manufacturing; the development of skills strategies specific to meet employer needs in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; and Improve’s position as the lead sector skills council in the development of the new Diploma in Manufacturing for 14-19-year-old school students in England.”

Michael Lloyd

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