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Skills on menu as delegates look to up stakes

24 March 2011

More than 100 delegates gathered in London on Wednesday to discuss the role skills and careers development have to play in the future economic success of the food and drink industry.

More than 100 delegates gathered in London on Wednesday (March 23) to discuss the role skills and careers development have to play in the future economic success of the food and drink industry.

The Attracting Talent and Increasing Productivity conference was organised by the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink and the Food and Drink Federation (FDF) in conjunction with Improve, the food and drink skills council.

The event provided an opportunity for employers, training providers and industry stakeholders to discuss how food and drink businesses can harness and develop talent with a view to achieving sustainable improvements to productivity and performance in the long-term.

Jack Matthews, Group CEO of Improve and the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink, said: “The focus of this conference was all about a journey that any business needs to embark on in order to be successful – attracting the right talent, developing that talent in the right way, and reaping the benefits in productivity and performance at the other end.

“Food companies still face some issues in making this journey. Attracting the right people into the industry is not always easy, and the pressures companies are facing to find more streamlined and sophisticated ways of working are stretching demand for higher-level technical and leadership skills.”

Keynote speeches covered topics of real importance to businesses and also highlighted the significant support that was being made available to the sector through Improve and the National Skills Academy.

Those looking to introduce or expand lean manufacturing were provided with an opportunity to find out more about the launch of new qualifications which, when delivered together, can support the key cultural and behavioural change needed, in addition to the standard tools and techniques.

Developed by Improve in collaboration with leading employers such as Swizzels Matlow and Kensey Foods, the FME qualification is intended to support sustainable productivity improvement in any food and drink business by equipping employees with key skills linked to principles such as lean manufacturing, critical analysis and change management.

The qualification, along with a wide range of other new Improve Proficiency Qualifications (IPQs), is available through the National Skills Academy provider network with £2.2m in government funding available to support their adoption throughout the industry.

Additionally, delegates heard about the partnership between Improve, the National Skills Academy and the FDF to boost the image of the sector, thus addressing the important need to promote food and drink as a careers destination of choice to the most talented to school leavers and graduates.

“The good news is that we all share these issues, they have been identified and by working together, we are developing the right solutions,” continued Matthews. “For any employer concerned about finding suitable recruits, or who might have questions about what lean can do for their business, or how training can deliver genuine business benefits, this conference was a timely opportunity to discuss their needs, find out what support and resources are available and share best practice with others.”

Paul Wilkinson, chairman of Improve and the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink, opened the conference by addressing delegates about the strategic importance of the food and drink industry to the UK economy and the need for continued investment in its future success.

“Food and drink is the largest sector in UK manufacturing, representing around 15% of all output. We employ over 400,000 people and export over £14 billion in sales, accounting for six per cent of the UK’s total exports.

“Investment in capital equipment is running at around £1.5 billion per annum to both expand capacity and improve productivity, and in terms of measuring our performance, output has grown over the last ten years by three per cent, whilst manufacturing as a whole has declined 13%. All of this has been achieved whilst maintaining or improving corporate profitability, with overall margins nudging 10 per cent on average. Put simply, we outperform on all counts.

“We can maintain our pre-eminent position in an increasingly complex and competitive market, but to do that we need talent and skills. With retirements accelerating, the demography requires a new generation of employees to take their place. We welcome the government’s commitment to a sector-based approach to skills development and the reshaped funding models designed to encourage greater employer investment in skills.”


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