Businesses and government need to work together to support food and drink, and save Christmas - David Thomson

It will not have escaped your attention that the Scottish food and drink industry is experiencing a very difficult time. Our businesses are facing many challenges but the most pressing is a labour shortage. This is putting a lot of pressure on companies to get their food and drink on the supermarket shelves and threatening the future success of the industry.
David Thomson, CEO, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) ScotlandDavid Thomson, CEO, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland
David Thomson, CEO, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland

Many people who would have previously been attracted to work in food and drink from abroad can no longer do so. Covid restrictions also led to some employees moving on to work in different sectors such as online and delivery companies.

In our recent survey of Scottish food and drink businesses 93 per cent of them said they currently had job vacancies, 90 per cent described their vacancies as hard to fill, and 97 per cent said that they would struggle to fill future positions. Engineering and production operation roles were reported as particularly difficult to fill.

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Food and drink businesses are doing everything they can to retain and recruit talented people. They are advertising their roles as widely as possible – including through mail drops and job centres; using incentives such as employee referrals and bonuses; making shift patterns more flexible and offering development and training opportunities. For Coca-Cola Europacific Partners (CCEP) investing in the future pipeline of talent is vital.

Jim Fox, head of public affairs at CCEP, recently said: “Young people have a crucial part to play in how we do business now and in the years to come, so doing all we can to attract the very best talent is key. Our outreach work in schools and colleges is aimed at broadening the range of applications to our apprentice programmes and we’ve made sure our assessment process focusses on capability and attitude, as opposed to solely focusing on academic achievements.

“Our Reach Up programme with UK Youth, which targets people between the ages of 16 and 25 who are not in employment, education or training, is another way we’re working to empower young people with the confidence, skills and experience to help them feel workplace ready.”

But our industry can’t solve the recruitment crisis alone - we need urgent action from the UK and Scottish Governments.

We have called on the UK Government to introduce a 12-month covid recovery visa for the food and drink supply chain and for the fees to employment visas for the food and drink supply chain to be waived until 2022. In addition, an urgent review by the Migration Advisory Committee on the needs of the food and drink sector is required.

We have asked the Scottish Government to ensure support for automation in funding programmes to allow greater productivity and the development of more high-quality jobs; and to continue work with us to promote the industry as a great career destination.

We welcome recent UK Government decisions to temporarily widen the existing visas for example for HGV drivers, poultry workers and butchers. But this is not enough. We need the UK Government to support businesses across the full supply chain, and to work with industry to deliver longer term solutions.

It is a tough time for our fantastic food and drink industry. Now more than ever businesses and the UK and Scottish Governments must work together effectively, putting aside political dogma, to support the industry, to save Christmas, and to contribute to a healthy future.

David Thomson, Chief Executive Officer, Food and Drink Federation Scotland

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