· 3 min read · Features

Attracting talent for the future

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The food and drink manufacturing industry is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector employing a staggering 400,000 people in a huge variety of roles.

Although the industry is continuously growing, the sector's future sustainability is highly dependant on the skills of its current workforce and crucially, its ability to attract the right talent for the future.

Food and drink is a great British success story - we have been resilient through the economic downturn, continuing to grow domestically and through our exports. We recently recorded a record sixth year of export growth breaking the £10 billion barrier for the first time. To remain competitive the sector must improve its productivity and performance. This is heavily reliant on the capability of its existing workforce and the ability to attract the right people. With over a third of the workforce due to retire in the next 20 years we believe that the support for promotion of the sector as a 'career of choice' is the key to our continued future growth."

Unfortunately like many other manufacturing sectors, the food and drink industry suffers from a poor image against other career choices; therefore it's crucial that the perception of the industry improves if it wants to encourage the right, talented entrants to consider seriously careers in our sector.

We are unusual as a sector in the range of people we recruit - from school leavers with few or no formal qualifications right through to highly qualified postgraduates for specialised food science and technology posts. The industry provides a wide range of diverse opportunities across the country. With this in mind our members see the promotion of the sector as a key priority. Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has recently launched its careers campaign, which aims to attract talented entrants to consider careers in the UK food and drink manufacturing sector.

Our careers campaign, 'Taste Success - A Future in Food' clearly demonstrates that we are committed to working with our members and key stakeholders to raise our sector's profile as a 'career of choice' for school leavers and graduates.

The initial part of our campaign has involved developing a range of careers materials, which aim to bust some of the myths about working in the food and drink industry. These include the misconceptions that the industry is poorly paid, old fashioned and outdated and lacks opportunities for career progression. Our careers publications also contain real life case studies of young, talented and skilled employees who have managed to secure good jobs within the sector.

As part of our careers campaign we have participated in a range of events aimed specifically at young potential entrants, which have been great as they provided us with the ideal platform to engage directly with our target audience. This has included 'Breaking the Mould', an event held in March which was organised by the Financial Mail on Sunday and was attended by over 400 sixth form girls who are about to embark on their university choices. The theme of this year's event was science and technology, and being one of the event's main sponsors gave FDF the ideal opportunity not only to promote our careers materials, but also provide female speakers, currently employed in senior scientific based positions within the food sector, who were able to inform the young ladies about the exciting career opportunities available to them in the food industry.

I'm pleased to say that we've already received positive feedback from our careers publications, which have also been available at careers fairs across the country. In addition colleges and universities who offer undergraduate and graduate food related courses have requested copies.

Apart from launching its Careers Campaign, FDF believes that employers in the food and drink industry need to raise their game by providing an insight into the industry for potential entrants and their advisors.

Employers in our sector must also play a role in attracting new talent by opening their doors to allow potential entrants to gain valuable and structured work experience opportunities. In addition, we must capitalise on the Government's pledge to increase the number of apprentices by ensuring that the necessary mechanisms are in place to enable employers to offer effective delivery of apprenticeship programmes.

FDF is not working in isolation to promote the sector. Further work in partnership with Improve and the National Skills Academy for food and drink will set us on a path to harness and develop talent to ensure we have the technicians, team leaders and middle managers of the future so that the UK food and drink industry is able to effectively compete, not only at a national level but on a global scale. We believe that the key to that success lies in both attracting talent for the future and building the skills of the existing workforce.

Angela Coleshill, HR director at the Food and Drink Federation