UK skills council awarded new five-year licence

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Improve, an organization set up to help develop medium- and long-term skills in the food and beverage industry, has been relicensed for another five years by the UK government, the group said yesterday.

The relicensing of Improve, the Food and Drink Sector Skills Council (SSC), comes at a time when the industry has been struggling to attract a new generation of food scientists and technologists. However there have been some indications that the recession has given the industry a boost, as professionals from other sectors have begun to see food and beverage as a recession-resilient area.

In the five years since its inception, Improve has been working on sparking interest in a new NVQ in Food Manufacture, and on increasing the number of apprenticeships available, among other initiatives. It says that it has “broken down a funding barrier” ​in Scotland in particular, where a £1.5m (about €1.63m) government allocation has created 656 apprenticeship places, up from just 15 last year.

Improve’s chief executive Jack Matthews said: “We aim to help increase productivity for everyone from apprentices to senior managers, and to continue addressing the particular needs in food science and technology to close skills gaps and reduce unfilled vacancies.”

And it is in food science and technology that one of the greatest challenges lies. The organization conducted a study in 2005 that found as many as one in four science and technology vacancies in the sector is unfilled and hard to fill.

Improve’s director of finance and resources Stephen Chambers told that the aging workforce profile of the industry also presents a major challenge.

He said: “A third of the current workforce will retire over the next 20 years, taking with them a vast wealth of skills and experience. In order to address this issue we are working to attract more talented and ambitious young people into the industry. This requires a coordinated effort to raise the profile of careers in the industry.”

Meanwhile, the relicensing of Improve has been welcomed by the UK’s Food and Drink Federation (FDF).

FDF’s HR director Angela Coleshill said in a statement: “We are proud that our SSC has been recognised for the quality of its delivery and see this decision as a real vote of confidence for its past achievements and plans for the future. In order for our sector to compete globally and sustain it for delivery of future food needs, we need to continue to make strides in the field of improved technology, innovation and improved productivity…Much of Improve's work has been about providing the tools to enable the sector to deliver both in the medium and long term.”

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