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Sore lack of skills in Welsh food sector, report

By Guy Montague-Jones , 15-Sep-2009

A training academy for food and drink manufacturing in Wales is planned to combat an urgent skills shortage in the country.

Improve, the skills council for the food and drink sector, detailed plans for the academy in a report on the Welsh industry warning that long-term competitiveness is jeopardised by a lack of investment in skills and development.

The report found that the number of food manufacturing employees in Wales with no qualifications is double the UK average and that a third of Welsh employers agree that the industry faces skill shortages.

Despite this awareness, Improve said nearly three quarters of companies have no formal training plans, while just 15 per cent have a formal training budget.

In an economic environment where pressure is on to cut costs, Huw Rees, Improve’s national operations manager for Wales, said companies need “skilled and adaptable” workers to find cost-effective ways of working.

In Wales at the moment, there are concerns that the industry is lacking the mechanisms to create and sustain such a workforce.”

To address this problem the Food and Drink Advisory Partnership has already established a training group to bring government, employers and trainers together to focus on the issue. While monitoring of the effect of this group will be close over the next 12 months, there are already plans to establish a National Skills Academy for Food and Drink Manufacturing in Wales, such as already exists for other regions.

An academy would function as a single resource for training and a forum for businesses and training providers to work together, and ensure that training corresponds to the needs of employers.

Improve is also setting up a suite of credit-based qualifications to help employees work towards qualifications piece by piece without upsetting their working responsibilities.

“Employers in Wales have said that fixed qualifications are simply too long for their needs, so this flexibility will hopefully address that issue and lead to more people in the industry engaging with training,” said Rees.

Recruitment up

Despite the need for better training, Improve found that the recruitment situation has improved over the last few years. The skills council said the Welsh food and drink industry is experiencing a recruitment boom and that employers are finding it easier to attract workers.

The report found that less than one in ten companies reports trouble filling vacancies – almost half as many as four years ago.

But without the skills base, this recruitment turn up will be ineffective at positioning the £1.7bn industry in a competitive global environment.

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