It's time to inspire a new generation to power food and drink into the future

I am very lucky to be able to represent Scotland's food and drink manufacturers. They provide 36,000 high quality jobs and contribute 1.9 billion in gross value added (GVA) to our economy. GVA is an important measure, because it helps us to calculate business productivity. The vital contribution our sector makes to the economy is the reason Scottish food manufacturing has been identified as a key growth sector. Indeed, recent Scottish Government data shows that we grew at twice the rate of the UK average, increasing 43 per cent in Scotland compared to 21 per cent in the UK between 2008-2014.

Generic picture of food.
Generic picture of food.

Productivity is key to this. It is a measure of how well resources, such as workers and money, are converted into finished goods and services. For our industry to continue its success we must become a more productive industry. The Scottish Food and Drink Federation (SFDF) and our partners in the Scotland Food & Drink partnership view increasing productivity as a top priority and are calling on firms to take the productivity challenge.

There are encouraging signs – 
Scottish food and drink manufacturing productivity increased by almost 6 per cent between 2013 and 2014 – but much more can be done. Given the size and scale of the industry, any food and drink productivity improvements will also have a significant impact on Scotland’s wider economy. A substantial boost in productivity growth will also lead to investment in leading edge innovation, improved technology and necessary advances in food production to ensure consumers continue to have access to sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious food.

There is a wide range of support available for businesses looking to enhance productivity. SFDF plays its part by focusing on skills and qualifications and inspiring young people to seek a career in our industry.

Investment in workforce skills can make a significant contribution to increased productivity; as part of an effective wider business strategy, more highly skilled people produce more high value goods and services, more efficiently. However, we know that skills issues, such as an ageing workforce, talent shortages and 
technical and scientific skills gaps risk undermining future productivity improvements in our sector. Across the UK over a third of our workforce is due to retire by 2024 and there are insufficient skilled candidates to fill these roles. In Scotland alone, food manufacturing needs 19,000 new recruits by 2024 to meet the skills need of the sector.

We need food scientists and technologists to power new product development to meet changing consumer needs and tap into new markets; food engineers to design, implement and maintain bespoke systems to support innovation, increase efficiency and boost margins; and to enhance management skills within the sector to allow firms to make better use of available resources, including existing workforce skills. However, many young people, teachers, career advisors and parents are unaware of the varied opportunities that exist, especially in science, technology and engineering. To address this we are working with industry and education partners, through our schools work A Future in Food, to inspire Scotland’s future workforce to consider a career in food and drink.

A Future in Food, funded by the Scottish Government and supported by companies across Scotland, helps potential recruits better understand where their food comes from and how it is produced. Pupils, parents and teachers also find out about the careers available in food and drink, the routes to access them and the skills our industry requires.

As part of this, we support long-term partnerships between schools and companies to help teachers deliver the school curriculum. Using food as a context for learning, pupils can clearly understand the real-world relevance of school subjects – especially science, technology, engineering and maths. We also have 300 volunteers from across the food chain supporting career events, hosting site visits and running classroom workshops.

We also need to ensure we have the correct qualifications that support food and drink careers. SFDF is working with College Development Network, Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority, developing and delivering new qualifications that will give new talent and current staff the skills industry needs.

Working in collaboration to support the Scottish food and drink industry on productivity and other areas is crucial to the future growth of the sector. We are working with other trade association and public sector organisation from across the food chain to ensure the future of food and drink remains bright.

David Thomson, CEO of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation