The skills shortage in the food and drink industry is well documented, with 170,000 vacancies needing to be filled between 2010 and 2020, and growing engineering shortages threatening the ability of the sector to adapt to the ever-increasing focus on technology and automation.
A recent briefing paper from the Food Research Collaboration suggests that over the next decade this may well come under further strain with Brexit set to exacerbate the issues in an industry already struggling with its gap in skills.
New methods of production, including automation, are increasingly being implemented. These methods often require previously unfamiliar skills within the food and drink industry – namely advanced mechatronics, digital programming and big data analysis.
THE ADVENT OF DIGITAL SKILLS
The skillset possessed by traditional engineers are still important, but are being usurped by computer programming needs to support technological advancements. The evolving skillset of a modern engineer could help to change the perception of engineering and ultimately encourage more to consider an engineering career in the food and drink industry. The digital advancements across automation and process control systems means the resultant jobs are a far cry from Generation X’s perception of an engineer; wearing overalls, covered in oil and holding a spanner.
Senior engineering leaders, recruitment and HR professionals can use the changing direction of engineering to promote and encourage career entry into these deficit areas. The Government’s recently introduced Apprenticeship Levy highlights the importance of training the new generation of workers and passing on knowledge that sits within the senior echelons of a business. Alongside the new skillsets, it’s vital to recognise the experience and knowledge specific to the food and drink industry, something that has been developed and honed over a number of years.
ADDRESSING THE AGEING WORFORCE
We have an ageing workforce in the UK, but as senior staff move into the final phase of their working life, it’s critical that practices are put in place to ensure that their knowledge is passed on to juniors and apprentices. The transfer of skills from the more experienced staff members isn’t just best practice, it makes good business sense.