Attracting talent into food sector is urgent, says industry boss Dame Fiona Kendrick

As industry faces an unprecedented set of challenges, senior leaders in food and drink have announced the launch of a major project designed to help the sector boost productivity.

Food and drink industry is facing a skills shortage: Photo Credit: PA

The food and drink sector has a strong record on productivity growth, outstripping overall UK productivity and many global competitors.

However, the industry is facing skills gaps in key technical and scientific areas, and an ageing workforce, with 130,000 new employees needed by 2024.

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Dame Fiona Kendrick, CEO of Nestlé UK and FDF President, who led the business group, spoke ahead of the launch of the report at FDF’s Summer Parliamentary Reception.

She said: “As the largest sector of UK manufacturing, food and drink has an enormous contribution to make to boosting the productivity of the economy. Since 2009, productivity performance in food and drink has increased by 11 per cent.

“We’ve got a great productivity story to tell, but we also know we have more to do. Bringing the right people with the right skills in to our businesses is central – the skills gap facing food and drink is not new, but the need to close it has never been more urgent.

“Our priorities are to increase the quantity and quality of our apprenticeships, improve our engagement with schools and our collaboration with Higher and Further Education and showcase the exciting career opportunities on offer.”

Food and drink business leaders have therefore come together to take steps to ensure that productivity gains are sustained and they can recruit and retain the next generation of food engineers, scientists and leaders. 

FDF Director General Ian Wright CBE said: “While UK industry now faces a period of unprecedented uncertainty, it is clear that a large proportion of our talented and highly skilled workforce is moving inexorably towards retirement. This creates a skills gap in key areas. That poses a big challenge for the industry and a massive opportunity for new entrants to the labour market seeking highly skilled, well-paid careers in a dynamic industry.

“Food and drink manufacturers need more of the right skills across a range of areas to continue to drive future innovation to support our UK competitive advantage.”

The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) and National Skills Academy for Food and Drink, working alongside apetito, Butt Foods, Nestlé, Mars, Mondeléz International and Premier Foods, have identified essential steps to maintaining the talent pipeline.

The key findings and business actions under the project, which forms part of Sir Charlie Mayfield’s Productivity Review, have been captured in a new report – ‘Unlocking Talent – The Key to Driving Food and Drink Productivity’.

John Stevenson MP, Chair of the APPG for Food & Drink Manufacturing, said: “The food and drink manufacturing sector is in a prime position to help government boost productivity and grow exports.

“Through initiatives such as the industry supported MEng and BEng Food Engineering degrees at Sheffield Hallam University and ambition to increase apprenticeship numbers by a third, food and drink manufacturers are investing in their future workforce.

“Now is the time to increase activity. I congratulate FDF and its members for its ambitious call for business-led action and commitment to greater partnership with Government and other partners on this priority agenda.” 


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