As the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic arrived and fears of food shortages took hold, a new appreciation of the food industry emerged. From frontline key workers to those behind the scenes ensuring the supply chain remains robust and resilient, COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on the critical role the food industry plays.
However, often, when it comes to thinking about a career in food and drink, the full extent of opportunities available may not move beyond cooking or manufacturing. And the industry wants to change that. It strives to provide information to the food and industry and promote the variety of roles and careers available within it, along with the industry’s need to fill them.
Organisations in the UK are working to promote food as an appealing industry to be part of. They are training ambassadors to enter schools and talk about their experiences in the food industry, promoting the vast array of careers in the sector and encouraging more to join it.
Inspiring food students
Food and drink specialists, The National Skills Academy for Food & Drink (NSAFD), are at the centre of training and development, identifying and accrediting leading providers to help businesses fill skills gaps throughout the UK. NSAFD is exploring teaming up with Youth Employment UK and STEM to undertake programmes and deliver workshops to build their food and drink presence.
NSAFD works with governments, the Food Sector Council, The Food & Drink Federation, the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education, and Education and Skills Funding Agency to collectively support the industry. Together, these organisations can pool resources and support to influence policy decisions, lobby for change and progress the industry.
The not-for-profit organization developed its Tasty Careers brand in response to the sector's reputation, Amy Crooks, Head of Marketing and Insight, National Skills Academy for Food and Drink notes. “We really struggle with its image. It is not an attractive sector to work in. People think about it as wellies and hairnets,” she said.
The Tasty Careers’ initiative trains young people in the food industry to be ambassadors so they can go into local schools and talk about their job and their career.
Initiatives such as Tasty Careers strive to communicate the breadth of roles including HR, media, marketing and finance available to students and people wanting to enter into the food industry. “Our main aim is to promote the attractiveness of the sector and do a lot of myth-busting along the way about the wide variety of jobs that are available in the food sector,” added Crooks.
Drawing on what gaps exist in skills in food and drink, Crooks said: “There is a huge gap in engineering skills.”
Commenting on how a lack of job availability and promotion are reasons for this shortage, Crooks shared: “Engineers in food tend to be ones that have come in and risen through the ranks after moving to the industry from a range of other jobs outside of the sector.
“It is important that the food industry focuses on the engineering recruitment process,” added Crooks.
“The engineering workforce is an ageing one, and so we spent a significant amount of time developing a specific apprenticeship to ensure the taught engineering skills were relevant to working in a food and drink environment,” explainrf Crooks.
Promoting food opportunities
Rather than wanting to promote one single area, the NSAFD aims to bring widespread awareness to the opportunities in food. “We are trying to promote every single one of them, whether it's a food operative job, a food technologist, an engineer, or a marketing vacancy—our work is very much on behalf of the sector as a whole,” added Crooks.