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STEM Skills in the Food and Drink Industry

23 Jan 2018
Alasdair Murray

STEM Skills in the Food and Drink Industry - where are we now?

Moira Stalker, Skills Manager, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland was recently quoted as saying:

“The Scottish food and drink industry is a great success story. Much of this success is due to the enthusiastic and talented people that work in the sector, providing us with food that is safe to eat and nutritious.”

It is hard to think of a modern occupation that doesn’t rely on STEM skills in its workforce. Figures from STEM sources show that 72% of all UK businesses rely on people with STEM skills. It is estimated 58% of all new jobs will be STEM related and that 65% of today’s school aged children will be employed in jobs that don’t currently exist. This highlights the immediate and significant skills gap looming just over the horizon.

STEM sources report that around ten million jobs are at risk by 2030 due to advancing technology, as an industry it is important that we don’t just focus on future talent but ensure that the existing workforce is re-trained to ensure future employment.

STEM Skills in the Food and Drink Industry

To counteract this shortage, the number of people studying for degrees in Science, Engineering and Technology must increase by over 40% on current levels if future demand is to be met. Across all sectors it is estimated that the UK will need 1,500,000 more scientists and engineers by 2020. A million and a half new professionals in two years is no mean feat. While more work is needed, it is great to see initial steps being taken to attract women in Engineering as currently only 6% of the UK engineering workforce is female. Tapping into the wealth of female STEM talent will be vital to the survival of the industry.

STEM Ambassadors

At Eden Scott we have a number of STEM Ambassadors doing their bit; going into schools, colleges and universities to raise awareness of future careers, and emphasising the importance of continuing study across the STEM subjects for long term career prospects and career security. We are not alone in this endeavour. 55% of businesses recognise that they have a key role in enthusing young people about STEM and a number of our clients already have STEM ambassadors.

The modern workforce is highly competitive and, in key roles, employees are in the driving seat and know their worth. It’s no surprise 68% of employers report difficulty in recruiting staff.  A typical supply and demand scenario has emerged, particularly within engineering where there is a shortage of qualified candidates, where we have seen salaries rocket and enhanced packages being offered to attract talent.

Growth of the Food and Drink Industry

It comes as no shock to anyone in the industry to find out that there has been enormous growth over the last ten years – a rise of over 40% in the industry’s value since 2007. Within the Scottish Food & Drink sector it is reported that 19,000 new recruits are required by 2024 and many of these roles will be STEM focused. Typical roles include Food Scientist, Engineers, and IT. The Scottish Government with Skills Development Scotland and Scotland Food & Drink have launched a revised Skills Investment Plan to ensure every success for Scottish businesses to succeed in the future.

Steps are being taken to temper the skills gap. An initiative called A Future in Food was launched in 2012 and has since supported, among other things, careers events that attracted over 25,000 pupils, 13,000 pupils to take part in food education activities and over 3,500 pupils and teachers to visit industry sites. Supporting awareness of STEM careers in the food and drink industry will be a key aspect of making sure the industry is well staffed for decades to come.

STEm Skills in the Food and Drink Industry

Moira Stalker, Skills Manager, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland also said:

“If you are interested in STEM subjects, there are many rewarding careers in food and drink that could be for you - including opportunities for scientists, technologists and engineers.

“We need food scientists and technologists to power new product development to meet changing consumer needs and tap into new markets; and food engineers to design, implement and maintain bespoke systems to support innovation, increase efficiency and boost margins. These highly skilled people will ensure the future growth of our vital sector.”

It’s clear that people with STEM skills can make a significant contribution to many of the most pressing challenges facing society today. The private and public sector need to continue to work together, and we must also engage with teachers and parents to highlight the fantastic opportunities across our growing sectors.


There are 19 STEM Ambassador hubs across the UK and around 30,000 STEM Ambassadors across the UK.  More can be found out via their website and why not become a STEM Ambassador? 


Alasdair Murray
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