University of Nottingham joins movement to address food industry productivity and workforce challenges

A new report outlining the food industry’s ambition to address food chain productivity issues and the challenges of a shrinking labour supply has been published.

The ‘Preparing for a Changing Workforce’ report has been published by the Food and Drink Sector Council and was led by the Food and Drink Federation in collaboration with food science academics at the University of Nottingham.

The report highlights the growing skills shortage across all levels and areas in agriculture, horticulture, manufacturing, wholesale, retail and hospitality. Management and leadership skills are, however, a common gap across the whole of the food and drink supply chain and act as a barrier to the adoption of new technologies. This, when coupled with an anticipated shortfall in labour, in part due to the end of freedom of movement with the EU, is expected to threaten future productivity growth across the supply chain.

The food and drink sector has a significant impact on the UK economy, contributing £121 billion to national Gross Value Added and employing over four million people (14% of the national workforce), spread across every region and nation of the UK. Jobs in the food and drink sector are often perceived as low-skilled, but this report shows that businesses are seeking to fill roles across all skill levels from intermediate through to higher and advanced levels. Food and drink businesses recognise the importance of Apprenticeships, but also emphasised that more support is required to improve engagement with the Apprenticeship Levy.  Almost one third of respondents, eligible to pay the Apprenticeship Levy, reported writing it off as a tax due to uncertainty over how best to use the funds.

Representation from farm to fork

The report is the first to bring together the entire sector from ‘farm to fork’ and present a cross-chain approach to addressing future workforce, skills and productivity concerns. Based on the evidence collected, the FDSC has identified early recommendations to upskill employees and attract future talent through: greater use of Apprenticeships and offering T Level work placements across the sector; improving accessibility and quality of training provision for food and drink businesses of all sizes throughout the UK; and professionalising leadership and management skills within the sector to ensure that managers are prepared for a changing workplace.

Emma Weston, Associate Professor in Food Science at the University of Nottingham was one of the lead academics on the Workforce and Skills Group the representing higher education for the broad food and drink sector: “It is encouraging this report demonstrates cohesive steps by all industry stakeholders to work in collaboration to signpost and encourage young people to join the food industry talent pipeline. Some of the recommendations in the report are already being embraced here, for example strong management and leadership skills and understanding of self-development are already woven into in our food science courses alongside traditional technical skills.”

Fulfilling industry needs

The University has also invested in understanding the needs of the food industry with an extensive research project seeking to establish specifically what industry wants in a great food science graduate. This research showed that there are a broad range of technical roles and careers options open to food science graduates.

Dr Weston continues: “We have already made great progress in ensuring our graduates are industry ready and we are committed to building on this to increase the image of the industry and ensure graduateshave the necessary skills to move into employment or postgraduate research.”

It is hoped that this multi-faceted approach, which combines industry-led solutions with related government interventions will advance training and skills development and opportunities across STEM disciplines and transform the industry’s image as an employer.

Dame Fiona Kendrick, Food and Drink Sector Council Member and Chair of the Workforce and Skills Group said: “We must work with employers, education providers and government to identify what actions we must take together to close the food and drink sector’s skills gap and deliver productivity growth.  Access to skills is a growing problem across the sector, and according to the FDSC’s Preparing for a Changing Workforce Report, the majority of companies expect the situation to become more difficult, as we will see a tighter labour market due to the ageing population coupled with lower net migration.”

“So, now is the time to act. I appeal to you to join us in this movement and ensure the UK food and drink businesses lead the way in providing secure and well-paid jobs at all skills levels right across the UK.”

Ian Wright CBE, FDF Chief Executive said: “Ensuring UK food and drink has access to a highly skilled, well-paid and home-grown pool of talent is critical to the industry retaining its reputation as a global leader and will guarantee its long-term potential.

“This is the first time the food chain has come together to deliver such a far reaching, future focused report with a strong set of recommendations for action. This report provides an evidence base and an approach on which to build on, but it’s success can only be guaranteed if the FDSC and the wider food and drink supply chain is able to fully collaborate with government.”