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Sector must become priority to become global leader

03 March 2010

Attracting new talent into the food and drink industry will be essential if the UK is to achieve its goal of becoming a global leader in sustainable and secure food, says Improve CEO

Improve chief executive, Jack Matthews, told the All Party Parliamentary Food and Drink Manufacturing Group during a joint presentation with the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) that the targets and priorities set out by Defra last year for sustainability and food security over the next 20 years could only be achieved through investment in a knowledgeable and competent workforce.

He called on the government to acknowledge and recognise food and drink as a priority sector for targeted funding for training as part of its strategy for driving recovery and growth in the economy.

Matthews said Improve was looking to gain support from government to develop a Food Supply Chain Cluster which would bring together different sector skills councils and supply chain elements to create a single, cohesive vision for developing the workforce right across the food and drink supply chain.

“At present, different elements of the food industry, from agriculture to processing to retail, are treated as distinct when it comes to skills,” he said. “The development of such a cluster would focus on achieving food sustainability and security by driving the skills agenda, ensuring the sector can meet its performance and productivity priorities in the coming years no matter where the need arose along the food supply chain.

“We would be leaders in taking this approach and this would continue the success story that is the UK food and drink industry. It contributes £22.8bn in Gross Value Added (GVA) and has an annual turnover of £78.7bn. It produces £13.1bn in exports and is one of the largest and most competitive manufacturing and processing industries in the world. And, most importantly, it can grow and prosper even more. We just have to ensure the apparatus to do so are in place.”
 
Matthews said: “The food and drink industry is a success story for UK industry. In terms of international productivity, we are ranked second globally. However, there are a great deal of changes taking place; demand for more high-value products, the adoption of advanced manufacturing techniques, and more stringent EU and global standards and regulatory requirements all create their own challenges. In addition, environmental change and the rising global population are creating their own pressures on the food supply chain, meaning we will potentially have to feed more mouths with fewer resources.

Angela Coleshill, FDF’s director of competitiveness, said: “The FDF is encouraged by the focus on technical skills in the government’s skills strategy. Our sector has significant shortages in certain areas such as food scientists and technologists. We have been working hard to attract talent for the future but are frustrated by the current lack of new entrants leaving education with the right technical skills and aspirations to start a career in our sector.”

Speaking about the future of the industry, Mr Matthews said: “We must attract and develop talented individuals who can help create a high-tech, modern and efficient food and drink industry to achieve the sustainable and secure supply of food we need going forward. We need to fill one hundred and thirty-seven thousand jobs by 2017 and around a third of those will be in professional and managerial roles such as food scientists and technologists, engineers and senior officials, increasing the number of professional roles by 50 per cent on current numbers. There will also be demand for significant numbers of skilled technical and process roles.

“For this to be achievable, the industry needs government support in terms of investment and funding which follows the reforms in qualifications for the industry we are currently pursuing. The government must respond to the needs of employers. They are best placed to tell us what skills and knowledge they need from their employees and we must listen.”


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