The Challenges Facing Food Manufacturing Companies
I am asked on a daily basis
What are the biggest challenges facing the food and drink industry today?
Whilst appreciating there are many challenges facing food manufacturing companies and it does vary across the different sectors, the issue that comes up time and again is ‘people and skills’.
I was recently invited to take part in the BQ Live Debate on ‘Bridging the skills gaps' across our priority sectors in Scotland and it was very apparent, by collective agreement, that more must be done to link the private sector with government and academia.
Prior to the debate I was keen to discuss the validation of current university courses and if they are fit for purpose for today’s world of work? Are universities offering courses that meet the needs of the private sector but conversely, are those businesses communicating to academic institutions what the future looks like and what skills they need to develop their business? It was fair to say there was agreement that more needed to be done on all sides to bring everyone closer together.
Where are the gaps in talent?
The Food & Drink Federation (FDF) suggests that the industry will require around 109,000 new recruits across a whole host of specialisms by 2022 in order to satisfy existing and future skills needs of the food and drink manufacturing sector.
Innovation and New Product Development
Manufacturers must be able to respond to consumer trends. It is reported that the industry launches in excess of 6,000 new products a year to meet the demands of consumers. A big focus recently has been around healthy living, free-from food and an upturn in craft beer and gin. Manufacturers are constantly innovating, and not just through launching new products but in the reformulation of existing products to reduce salt, fat, sugar etc.
At Eden Scott we are seeing an increase in NPD and Process Development roles. Another role we are getting requests for are Development Chefs particularly now as the industry are looking for very specific culinary experience to support in their in-house technical teams.
The growing engineering skills shortages within food and drink manufacturing has been well publicised. It is not only traditional engineering roles today but the industry requires engineers with knowledge of advanced technologies and software in preparation for the whats become known as the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ (4IR) over the next decade.
We are now seeing far more engineers being recruited from other sectors, outwith food and drink manufacturing. 10 years ago this was not the case but due to a shortage and a realisation of the transferable skills, experienced engineers are now choosing food and drink as a career of choice due to job security but also because of the advancements in automation and technology.
Food Science & Nutrition
However, a key area of concern for the food manufacturing industry in relation to the skills gap is a shortage of newly qualified food scientists and nutritionists. Finding a solution to this is critical for the industry here in the UK to compete both at a national and international level. Consumers are more concerned than ever about safe, high quality and sustainable foods. The work of food scientists and nutritionists along with NPD colleagues is essential for the UK to continue producing world class food and drink. Unfortunatley, again as has been highlighted in other industries, there is a shortage of school children focusing on STEM subjects and as a result fewer school leavers going on to University to focus on food science careers within food and drink manufacturing.
What other factors are challenging food manufacturers around people and skills?
Aging work force
A number of figures have been quoted in relation to the percentage of employees of food and drink manufacturers retiring within the next 10 years. It is generally believed to be between 10% and 20%. This clearly is adding significant stress to the overall skills shortages and added to this is the real risk of that knowledge not being transferred to the future workforce.
The industry has relied heavily on EU nationals in both skilled and unskilled roles. Not just food and drink manufacturers but the entire supply chain will feel the strain. Given the on-going negotiations it is still too early to measure the exact impact.
Attracting young people
The government, industry bodies and private sector is doing more to attract young people to the food and drink manufacturing sector. The positive impact from this will benefit the industry in years to come but we still have a gap in young people choosing food and drink as a career of choice. This is primarily down to a lack of understanding and information on the variety of roles on offer within the sector.
A report from the Industry Apprentice Council (IAC), disclosed that only 22% of 1,200 apprentices surveyed reported having good careers advice at school. It went on to say that others favoured university over apprenticeships. Through the apprenticeship reform there is far more opportunities available to young people to earn whilst they learn but more needs to be done to attract these young people to the sector. The new Foundation Apprenticeship in Food & Drink Manufacturing is a positive step forward however the adoption of the recent apprenticeship levy overall has been slow.
As with many other industries, the food and drink industry is benefiting from automation across all sectors, allowing manufacturers and processors to produce and supply world class products efficiently and economically. The impact this will have on jobs is often the subject of much debate. We see far more manufacturers investing in robotics that will do away with many of the traditional manual handling tasks like picking, packing loading and unloading etc. Certain commentators have suggested this will be a good development for workers, while in other parts of the media it's believed this change will result in the loss of thousands of jobs. It's probably fair to say the number of new opportunities and new roles required around robotic engineering, programming and IT will be less than in traditional roles.
I see the sector as an attractive career of choice at all levels of experience and critical to the overall economic growth and stability of the UK. After all we have a reputation for provenance, quality and innovation but we all must do more to communicate the many exciting opportunities within food and drink manufacturing to ensure it is considered as a career of choice.