Angela Coleshill: Give young people an appetite for work

The £14bn Scottish food and drink industry offers great opportunities for careers, writes Angela Coleshill

School children are shown the technical and side of the food and drink business

The Scottish food and drink industry is a great success story, pulling in a massive £14 billion in turnover last year and aiming to exceed its target of £16.6 billion by 2017. It employs 74,000 people across the broad food chain and boasts the largest manufacturing sector in both Scotland and the UK.

However, despite this success, food and drink companies continue to face challenges attracting the right staff, which is a necessity for any industry to grow. In particular, the food and drink industry needs more scientists, technologists and engineers, in addition to many other roles.

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To help address these and other skills issues, a Skills Investment Plan was developed by Skills Development Scotland in collaboration with other sector partners, including the Scottish Food and Drink Federation (SFDF). A number of areas for action were highlighted, including attracting and retaining talent. In particular, the need to raise the attractiveness of the sector to new entrants was emphasised as a key area of focus.

In response to this need, SFDF launched the Food and Drink Skills Ambassadors Network, with funding from Skills Development Scotland.

The Food and Drink Ambassadors Network is made up of more than 200 volunteers who inspire young people to consider a career in the sector through hosting site visits, running classroom workshops and helping at school career sessions and large events such as science fairs and Skills Scotland.

Ambassadors represent a wide variety of roles from across the food chain including farmers, microbiologists, project engineers, food scientists, finance directors, marketers, university students, Modern Apprentices and many other roles that young people may not associate with food and drink.

Ambassadors use their knowledge from their day-to-day experience of working in the industry to bring food and drink careers to life.

They explain the benefits of working in food and drink, including highlighting the sector’s innovativeness, the attractive salaries available and the rapid career progression it can offer.

Recently, as part of the Food and Drink Skills Ambassadors Network activity, 30 pupils from third and fourth year at St Maurice’s High School in Cumbernauld visited Devro (Scotland) Ltd to find out about the exciting careers available in the industry, through a factory tour and series of interactive workshops. Devro, a supplier of collagen casings used by the food industry in the production of a wide variety of meat products, is a major local employer with more than 400 staff working across their Moodiesburn and Bellshill sites.

The school visit included a plant tour, where pupils were able to see how sausage skins are manufactured and how microorganisms in food are studied in product testing sessions in a lab.

The students also had a chance to help technical engineers to build machinery and quiz the Skills Ambassadors on their careers in food engineering, product development and food science.

Visits like these give pupils an insight into the real world of work and makes them aware of the wide variety of opportunities available in food and drink.

John Osborne, Faculty Head of Sciences at St Maurice’s High School, said: “The pupils really enjoyed the visit and learnt a lot about the food and drink production process”.

Pupils comments included: “I never knew so many different scientists would be needed to make one product” and: “Everything was very calm; I thought people ran about in factories”.

The Ambassadors Network works alongside SFDF’s Government-funded Schools Programme, A Future in Food, which facilitates long-term partnerships between schools and local food and drink companies to help deliver the curriculum, using food as a context for learning.

The programme also brings together various partners to produce innovative classroom resources that help teachers to bring their lessons to life.

SFDF, Abertay University, Education Scotland, and the Scottish Schools Education Research Centre recently launched a set of food science videos that support the chemistry curriculum and also highlight how science is used in the food and drink industry.

For the Scottish food and drink sector to continue growing successfully into the future, all partners across the food chain need to work together on the recruitment and retention of talented individuals.

Projects like SFDF’s Schools Programme and Ambassadors Network are playing a vital role in promoting food and drink as a career destination of first choice. The Scottish food and drink sector is an exciting one to enter right now – let’s champion the fantastic opportunities it offers.

Angela Coleshill is Director of Competitiveness at the Food and Drink Federation