Food and drink sector faces a generational ‘time bomb’

Industry body the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink has warned that the food and drink sector is facing a serious image crisis, with young people ignoring the sector when it came to choosing careers.

Justine Fosh, chief executive of the Academy, said that there were many misconceptions regarding the variety of roles available within the food and drink industry, as well as a lack of clear information about the career progression opportunities available. He also said that younger people had an outdated image of the sector.

This was all contributing to a ‘generational time bomb’. Over a third of the sector’s 400,000-strong workforce was due to retire by 2020. This number included a large number of managers and other staff in roles that required both skills and experience. Added to an already existing skills gap, the fact that younger workers are not in place to fill the holes left by retiring staff could lead to serious potential problems in the near future.

Mr Fosh warned that this would not only be detrimental to the food and drink sector itself but, given the size and importance of the industry, it could also have an impact on the wider economy.

A shortage of skilled workers is certainly not restricted to the food and drink industry. Skills shortages can have a serious impact on a wide range of businesses, providing a barrier to growth and sometimes affecting existing operations. Businesses that fail to secure the right personnel could even find themselves facing company administration.

The warning from the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink came during national apprenticeship week. While the food and drink sector was looking to attract more young talent, other industries were looking to dispel the misconceptions surrounding apprenticeships.

A study by Prudential has revealed what it called ‘widespread misconceptions’ about apprentice pay and other benefits among school-leavers. The majority of teenagers under-estimated the pay rates available on apprenticeship schemes, with 4% even thinking they would have to work for free.

By Phil Smith

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