Leader comment: Where real careers are on the menu

On Thursday evening, in the sleek setting of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, more than 800 people gathered for the Scotland Food and Drink Excellence Awards.

Fred Birkmiller of L'escargot Restaurants at the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards 2017. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Fred Birkmiller of L'escargot Restaurants at the Scotland Food & Drink Excellence Awards 2017. Picture: Ian Georgeson

Watching this line up of producers, restaurateurs, chefs and others, it was difficult not to feel buoyed and proud of how Scotland has evolved from a nation whose ambition was “a really great pie” to one which wants to compete with the very best food nations on the planet.

Today you’re as likely to hear the phrase “Scotland’s larder” as you are a mythical tale around deep-fried Mars Bars.

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The industry is now worth £14.4 billion annually, and the aim is to double that to £30bn by 2030. Exports alone are currently worth £7.1bn.

But behind the stories of success from new gin start-ups, family dairies and seasonal produce, the sector has a challenge in convincing the next generation of young people that a career in food and drink is both acceptable and rewarding.

Food and drink directly employs 119,000 people in Scotland but how many of them actually see this as a career?

Someone employed as a waiter in Scotland will typically be asked what they are going to do next? The subtext is: when are you going to get a real job?

So many roles are, rightly or wrongly, regarded as transitory or stop-gap solutions for young people, not genuine places to carve out a rewarding long-term future.

If Scotland is to double the value of food and drink, the very best young college and university graduates must view the opportunities differently, as an area of the economy that is valuable, growing and worthwhile.

If the top talent is being funnelled elsewhere, the sector will never truly reach its full potential. And that £30bn target will not be hit.

This change requires a cultural shift, with everyone playing their parts: business owners, middle managers, schools, colleges, trade bodies such as Food and Drink Scotland, the Scottish Government, and the media.

The audience is not only young people but also parents, who are vital in shaping which choices are acceptable for our young people.

So whether you want to be a packaging designer, a brand manager, a waiter or an artisan baker, the job opportunities are there and are growing. And it is up to us all to shout about them.