'Media is glamorous, pharma is sexy - but food means farms and hairnets'

What is Europe's food industry doing to attract fresh, young talent?

By Tracy West

- Last updated on GMT

 'The [food] industry’s image is outdated and in some aspects, draconian. It offers little or no progression for young people,' says Lukas Vanterpool from The Sterling Choice. © iStock/BartekSzewczyk
'The [food] industry’s image is outdated and in some aspects, draconian. It offers little or no progression for young people,' says Lukas Vanterpool from The Sterling Choice. © iStock/BartekSzewczyk
FoodDrinkEurope (FDE) wants industry step up efforts to hire new talent and match skill needs - but that’s no easy task when many young people don’t even consider the food industry as a place to work, according to several European recruitment agencies.

FDE wants the European food and drink industry to become a more attractive employer for fresh, young talent; this was one of the points made in its recent report, Priorities and Policy Recommendations for 2025.

But FoodNavigator spoke to different recruitment agencies across Europe and asked how the food industry is perceived as a potential workplace, and found the industry may need an image makeover.

Food industry is the choice "for the graduate who has no other choice"

In Germany, Matthias Hennig, senior consultant at Rau Consultants, says the ‘sexier’ automotive industry is more attractive to young graduates than the rather more conservative food and beverage industry.

“There is big competition between the industries and food and drink is not the first choice unless the graduate has studied food technology and so has

juice factory worker, hairnet, bottle  Droits d'auteur  IPGGutenbergUKLtd
Hairnets: Officially not glamorous. © iStock/IPGGutenbergUKLtd

no other choice. And even then, pharma is often more ‘sexy’,”​ he said.

Meanwhile in Denmark, director at Foodjob.dk Mads Kinch Clemmensen, says the food industry is not as attractive as the media or pharma. “Many younger people want to get into the media for the exposure and the glamour or into pharma so they can help heal the world and, of course, both offer industries offer high salaries.”

He says that in Denmark there is a definite problem with the food industry’s image with people imagining either low-tech work on a farm or working in a factory wearing a hair net.

However, efforts are being made to get young people involved to see what the 21st​ century food industry is all about. Students are currently being invited to apply to take part in the FoodTech Challenge at next month’s FoodTech Fair in Herning.

Talent hunters

FoodDrinkEurope and the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Tourism Trade Unions (EFFAT) have put together a toolbox (Good Practices and Tools from the Food and Drink Industry in Europe) for employers, employees and interested parties to share initiatives and find inspiration on ways to address the bottlenecks in recruiting new staff, especially when food and drink companies face an ageing workforce.

The toolbox contains specific suggestions and possible approaches on how to recruit more young people and recruit specific skillsets (for example, in production), and to improve training, apprenticeship and succession planning to address the shortage of first line supervisors and managers in the sector. It also advises on retaining older workers by encouraging best practice in age management policies.

Described as an ‘open innovation competition’, students work in teams to solve real cases provided by food and drink firms. The idea is to help students improve their network skills and future job opportunities by collaborating with a market-leading food company at the biggest food technology fair in Northern Europe. Companies taking part include AAK, Barry Callebaut and DuPont.

Success stories from Poland and Austria

The Toolbox includes case studies of how leading firms have worked to attract fresh talent. In Poland, Mars appointed Ambassadors at 15 campuses to build a more positive image of the company among students. This, together with other initiatives, has led to a substantial rise in the number of quality applications Mars has received.

In Austria, a food technician apprentice scheme resulted in all 119 successful apprentices immediately finding permanent positions in food manufacturing companies.

In the UK, New England Seafood International (NESI) invited local job centre officials to its premises to gain a better understand of the industry. Since the scheme started in December 2013, NESI has given jobs to 13 long-term unemployed, of whom six are younger workers. The current programme involves five workers, of whom three are young.

Industry's image is outdated

Rau Consultants’ Hennig said: “I think food and drink is the second biggest industry in Germany after automotive so more needs to be done to promote it as such.”​ And he says that’s not just a matter of salary or package, it’s more to do with image.

Lukas Vanterpool, director at UK-based The Sterling Choice, agrees: “The industry’s image is outdated and in some aspects, draconian. It offers little

innovation light bulb
© iStock

or no progression for young people.

“Millennials are eager and hungry for success, the food manufacturing industry doesn’t offer these options. The hierarchical legacy left by the ‘old boys club’ is profit first, people second. But in today’s society, ethics, values and corporate social responsibility are at the top of the agenda for businesses. Young people are much more geared towards businesses that care than those that give back nothing to society.”

And Vanterpool thinks too much emphasis is put on trying to recruit high flying graduates when instead companies should be going into schools and colleges and getting their brands out there earlier on.

He points to Holland where he says the food industry and careers within are spoken about more so people leaving school actually want to go down this route. 

“The culture is different, people are more stable within the businesses, they challenge them more, provide more opportunities to progress.  Overall, their mindset and approach is ahead and forward thinking.”

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1 comment

Recruit for food product development openings

Posted by Dhanashree,

With my skills in food product development, Would like to learn and contribute to upcoming European foods (snack industry).

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