Investing in staff is the recipe for success - Cat Hay

By the time this is published, we will have a new Scottish Parliament. Throughout the pandemic, businesses told me time and again that their staff are their most important asset. Therefore, our new cohort of MSPs must make good on their election promises around supporting our industry to prioritise future skills needs.

Being a great place to work has always been an important aim for Lanark based Border Biscuits.
Being a great place to work has always been an important aim for Lanark based Border Biscuits.
Being a great place to work has always been an important aim for Lanark based Border Biscuits.

Despite the impacts of the pandemic and Brexit, food and drink businesses continue to invest heavily in their staff. I’ve had many discussions with Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland member companies over the last few months who have shared their experiences, insights and ideas as to what “the new normal” looks like in the food and drink industry and how it has impacted the workforce in Scotland. FDF members spoke of their pride in how their people have developed and built their skill sets. Communication, teamwork, problem solving and collaboration skills have proved vital.

This mirrors recent research from Skills Development Scotland which stated that the most requested skills for jobs within the food and drink sector are ’meta-skills’ like teamwork and collaboration. Other insights within this research included businesses reporting many roles within food and drink broadening as a result of the pandemic with staff “stepping up” and emerging as future leaders. The industry already implements many fair work practices and will continue with an even closer focus on this as we enter the post-pandemic recovery.

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Developing workforce skills to build resilience was demonstrated by Devro. By introducing tools and techniques like scenario planning with their teams, and lessons learnt from the pandemic helps them to plan for their future and manage disruptors, effectively reducing the business disruption risk. An award-winning apprenticeship programme and staff training ensures succession planning, a pipeline of recruits and a highly skilled workforce.

Digital skills have played a huge role during the pandemic and are increasingly in demand. Whilst the shopper may have seen a rise in online presence for many food and drink producers, on the manufacturing side there is increased investment in robotics and artificial intelligence. World famous haggis maker Macsween of Edinburgh is investigating how collaborative robots could support and relieve certain repetitive tasks, freeing up their people to better use their meta skills on more interesting tasks. The Macsween team have also implemented an innovative QR code system on their machinery to speed up and streamline their quality and engineering reports whilst removing reams of paper from their reporting processes. The whole production team is involved with continuous improvement in the business, empowered to share and work together to implement changes.

These developments reflect skills trends in the food and drink industry - there is increasing demand for higher level technical skills and this is a trend that is set to continue.

For our food and drink businesses their people will continue to be their top priority, ensuring their development and wellbeing.

Being a great place to work has always been an important aim for Lanark based Border Biscuits. The wider health and wellbeing of their staff is something that became even more front of mind over the last year. The business listened to all staff about how roles were performed, then looked at how workspace could be repurposed, and duties could be adapted. They made winter working hours more flexible, blocked out meetings over lunch time, encouraging staff to go outside in daylight hours.

I hope the next Scottish Parliament continues to recognise the importance of the Scottish food and drink industry and the high value jobs we have to offer. Continuing to support our A Future in Food programme will help to ensure our food and drink businesses have the best talent for future growth. I look forward to working in partnership with the next Scottish Parliament and Government to support this vital work.

Cat Hay Head of Policy, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland



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