Moira Stalker: A career in Scotland's booming food and drink industry is indeed food for thought

Food and drink is a vital part of everyone's lives. For many, it is a source of great pleasure and provides a means to socialise with family and friends as well as providing good nutrition for health.

Moira Stalker, Skills Manager, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland
Moira Stalker, Skills Manager, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland

In addition, the whole food and drink industry, from agriculture, fishing, aquaculture through to manufacturing, is a significant contributor to the Scottish economy with an annual turnover of around £14bn.

Much of this success is due to the enthusiastic and talented people that work in the sector, providing us with food that is safe to eat and nutritious. These hard-working employees are also responsible for the constant innovation that improves products and processes to make the industry more efficient and sustainable. But there is a skills shortage – around 27,000 new job opportunities are forecast over the next ten years and the majority of these will require highly-skilled individuals.

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Many people are unaware of the wide range of exciting and rewarding careers on offer, including for scientists and engineers. There are also many other opportunities from finance, sales and marketing to IT and logistics and distribution. The industry welcomes school-leavers and apprentices who want to earn whilst they learn through to college and university graduates. If you are looking for a new challenge, then food and drink could be for you!

As skills manager at FDF Scotland I lead on our schools work – A Future in Food, which is funded by the Scottish Government through Scotland Food & Drink. This initiative helps educators, students, careers influencers and parents better understand the food and drink industry in Scotland. We highlight the wide variety of careers on offer, the skills required by employers, how the subjects studied in school relate to the real world of work, and the progression routes and pathways to access them. To do this we build partnerships between schools and food and drink companies that introduce students to real people from industry to help them find out about what their jobs involve, their career paths and the skills required by employers.

We also work with over 300 enthusiastic food and drink ambassadors from roles across the food chain. These ambassadors give up their time to support career events, host site visits, run classroom workshops and support science fairs. They are not only excellent role models but also show that there are many different ways to access the industry.

For example, Michael Young started at Devro (Scotland) Ltd, a supplier of collagen casings used by the food industry, while he was at school on work experience before being hired as an apprentice.

Throughout the apprenticeship Michael attended college as well as working in the maintenance team. Since completing the apprenticeship, Michael has been working as a cross-skilled engineer which gives him the opportunity to work in all areas of the factory. Currently he is working in the plant room, looking after the boilers and compressors which power the whole factory.

Michael recommends following the apprenticeship route for many roles in the food and drink industry to gain hands-on experience at the same time as academic qualifications.

Susan Cowan is a student studying food bioscience and has had a variety of jobs within the food and drink industry. She attended college to receive her City and Guilds in professional cookery, where she had the opportunity through an exchange programme to gain work experience in a traditional French restaurant in Lyon. This experience made her realise that her passion for food and the opportunities available within this industry allowed her to work anywhere!

Susan went on to work at the Gleneagles Hotel in a 2AA rosette restaurant. She enjoyed being a chef but wanted to pursue a different career and so went to college via a SWAP access course which allowed her to gain entry to university as a mature student to study food bioscience.

Susan is now halfway through her degree and holds several volunteer roles as an ambassador for STEM, IFST and FDF Scotland; these involve working closely with school children to raise awareness of the variety of roles in the Scottish food and drink industry and worldwide.

Scotland’s food and drink industry is a great success story but we need more talented people to drive future innovation and growth. To do this we need to work together to inspire new recruits to consider a career in food and drink. If you would like to help us to do this – please get in touch!

Moira Stalker, skills manager, Food and Drink Federation (FDF) Scotland