Tasty start to filling the food skills gap

A Future in Food brings business, educators and schools together to learn about careers in a key Scottish industry, says Colette Backwell

Family-owned Border Biscuits is an enterprising example of Scotlands food and drink industry. Picture: Peter Devlin

While Scotland’s food and drink manufacturing industry continues to deliver growth for the economy and offer an increasing range of nutritious, affordable products to consumers, the question still remains: how can we safeguard the sector’s future?

Our industry’s success is in part due to the fantastic produce Scotland has to offer but, equally, it is the enthusiastic individuals in the country’s workforce that have made it such a top performer.

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Despite employing around 46,000 people in Scotland alone, the sector continues to face a skills gap that needs our attention.

In fact, research suggests that by 2020, 170,000 new employees across the UK will need to be replenished to meet the demands of consumers and replace workers who retire.

To ensure the future remains bright, industry groups have joined forces in an innovative schools programme funded by the Scottish Government and delivered by the Scottish Food and Drink Federation (SFDF) to get young people to think about a future career in the industry.

A Future in Food brings together local companies and schools to introduce students, teachers, and careers advisers to the variety of exciting and rewarding careers the industry has to offer and the skills required. Youngsters are given the opportunity to work on a real business challenge, working individually or in teams that involve a number of different curriculum.

The programme enables them to understand the demands of the industry and the opportunities it can offer. Pupils also learn the application of their subjects to the world of work and can learn a wide range of personal and team working skills which will stand them in good stead for the future.

Since the launch of A Future in Food in 2010, SFDF has facilitated a number of successful partnerships with well-known brands including Border Biscuits, Nairn’s and Warburtons.

The initiative’s progress so far has played a big part in introducing food-related activities to more than 2,800 pupils across Scotland annually.

One great example of a schools and industry partnership involved 240 second-year students from Hamilton Grammar School who took part in a brand new inter-disciplinary challenge with iconic Scottish brand Tunnock’s.

Their task was to design and bake a protein biscuit that would be suitable for an athlete needing added fuel to compete at the Commonwealth Games.

Students worked side by side with industry professionals to brainstorm ideas, enjoying interactive workshops on recipe conception, creating an advertisement and catchy jingle, designing packaging, and learning about industry ethics such as fair trade and reducing carbon footprint.

Teams also had to produce and present storyboards on how they would, in real life, go about marketing their biscuit to suppliers and retailers. The biscuits and storyboards from each class had to face three judges: Alan Burnett, of Tunnock’s; Moira Stalker, of SFDF; and baker Stuart Anderson. They chose the final winning biscuit and storyboard.

Tunnock’s provided the prizes, such as aprons, mugs and biscuits, and is organising a factory visit once the pupils return from the summer holidays.

Hamilton Grammar headteacher, Colin Stewart, who praised the pupils for their effort, creativity and commitment to this project, was really impressed with how well the students did and vowed to run the project again next session.

In addition to setting up successful partnerships such as the one with Tunnock’s, the SFDF schools programme is working with Education Scotland and the Scottish Qualifications Authority to develop tools to help teachers deliver the initiative, as well as new qualifications that will upskill students keen to work in food and drink.

SFDF continues to recognise that our sector’s ability to thrive and compete in the international marketplace relies on our investment in a skilled workforce. We are working with companies, educators and government, to attract new recruits to rewarding careers in our industry and give school leavers an advantage. Whether they’re interested in food science, technology, research and development, engineering or marketing roles, the opportunities are endless.

Furthermore, starting salaries are above the national average at £20,000 to £25,000.

This sector’s ability to grow sustainably is dependent on attracting talent for the future; it is the skills of its employees and their ability to innovate that will help us remain competitive. SFDF is dedicated to harnessing talent and innovation, and spreading the message that a career in food and drink is a career of first choice.

• Colette Backwell is director of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation, www.sfdf.org.uk