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Industry needs to pull its socks up to attract new talent

20 November 2016

The UK food manufacturing sector is facing a skills gap along with an ageing workforce. A solution needs to be found quickly. Lukas Vanterpool pulls no punches. 

The food manufacturing industry is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK, accounting for 16% of all manufacturing. Despite its irrefutable importance and the increasing global demand for food products, the food industry has yet to look ahead to the next generation of talent that is going to continue to drive it forward. 

According to the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) ‘Unlocking Talent’ report; out of the five indicators of growth, it is employment that has shown little increase, only changing by 0.8% since 2010, while the industry grew by 11%. 

But, who is to blame for this? The industry itself has been slow to respond to cultural shifts with regards to consumer demand and has shown little regard for future talent. The culture itself is outdated and stagnated, living under the standards set by the ‘old boys club.’ The industry also seems to have adopted a ‘throwaway’ culture where money clouds ethics and is far from being ‘people centric’. 

In some respects, a level of fear has been adopted. We would argue from experience that the industry is reluctant to welcome eager young talent who are going to light fires and disrupt the traditional processes – it would rather receive individuals who are going to plod along and answer to all instructions with a resounding ‘yes’. 

The sector today boasts 6,100 SME’s, but they are mostly being put in a position by retailers where they must focus on meeting demands. This leads them to firefighting the talent shortage, dealing with the issue on an interim basis which is a false economy. 

It is true to say that neither staff retention nor progression are high on the agenda. Businesses in the sector need to be more honest with themselves when it comes to their progression infrastructure and the level of investment that is being ploughed into this. Rather than spending valuable time and money on an external brand image, focusing efforts internally and identifying what it is that they are currently offering present and future employees would serve many companies much better. 

Building a culture and environment that promotes employee happiness and implementing employee progression programs makes a company more attractive to new talent. Young millennials are no longer interested in working for businesses that are operating with a draconian hierarchal structure; ‘managers’ are out and ‘leaders’ are in.  The stark reality is that if you fail to recruit new talent the life expectancy of your business may be severely reduced. 

It has been argued that graduate expectations are too high. They are entering the industry with high hopes and little experience and when reality hits they simply move on – finding a ‘lifer’ in the industry is an almost impossible task. However, if they could see career prospects things may be different. 

Many employees also value a better work-life balance over financial gain. Family structures have changed, personal interests and self-development are increasingly important to individuals and generation Y are looking to align their personal values with their career, redefining traditional working practices in the process.
It’s time that the industry spend less time perpetually recruiting and more time focusing on the foundations of the business to ensure their philosophy becomes parallel with cultural expectation. Because for an industry that is often described as dynamic, we simply aren’t doing enough to fulfill that image when it comes to future talent. 

Lukas Vanterpool is director at The Sterling Choice, a food and drink recruitment company.

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