Food industry needs volunteer ambassadors to fill gap

Scheme is vital to engage school leavers. Picture: Contributed
Scheme is vital to engage school leavers. Picture: Contributed
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SCHEME is vital to engage school leavers, says Colette Backwell

Despite this, the industry continues to face a skills gap and desperately needs people that understand science, technology and mathematics to become food scientists, technologists and engineers. There are also opportunities in marketing, IT, sales, finance, distribution and logistics, with starting salaries above the national average, between £20,000 and £25,000.

Many young people are unaware of the many career opportunities available. To help address this, the Scottish Food and Drink Federation (SFDF) launched the Food and Drink Skills Ambassadors Network, funded by Skills Development Scotland, to dispel the outdated perceptions of working in the sector and inspire young people to recognise how exciting, innovative and diverse the industry can be.

Food and Drink Ambassadors, who work in industry and want to help spread the message of food and drink as a career destination of choice, have been involved in many activities including speed-dating career sessions, judging competitions, mentoring, hosting site visits, running classroom workshops and helping teachers bring food and drink to life with real examples from the everyday world of work.

Baxters, one of Scotland’s largest food and drink manufacturers, has 20 ambassadors across roles including engineering, food technology and HR, to highlight career opportunities. Activities have included running taste tests at science festivals to help all age groups understand the science behind food production, helping at teacher training events and engaging in school career events.

One event involved second year pupils at Milne’s High School in Moray taking part in Baxters’ annual soup challenge. The pupils were tasked with creating a soup that would appeal to teenagers and contain two of their five a day. The winning team, Soup-er Scots, created Gamekeepers Gun Roast soup, made with pheasant, venison and vegetables. Team members were then treated to a visit to Baxters’ factory in Fochabers to see how recipes are scaled up and put for industrial scale production.

This year Baxters has worked closely with SFDF’s Scottish Government-funded Schools Programme – A Future in Food. It works alongside the Ambassadors Network and facilitates partnerships between local companies and schools to help students, teachers, and careers advisers understand the variety of exciting and rewarding careers the industry has to offer, and the skills required by employers. Pupils also learn how school subjects are applicable to the world of work and gain an understanding of the range of opportunities available to them.

Volunteer Ambassadors come from all areas of food and drink and those who have helped find there are many personal benefits, such as their own individual development and getting a better understanding of their subject area. Involvement also offers companies a profile-raising opportunity and a way of engaging with young people who may decide to apply to work there at a later date.

To support the Ambassadors with their schools and public engagement a range of materials have been developed, extending from quick and fun activities to detailed classroom workshops. Ideas on how to present information about careers and where to direct pupils, teachers and parents who register interest are also available.

Despite the great work taking place to address the industry’s skills gap, there is still a lot to be done in schools, and more volunteer Ambassadors will be required. The level of involvement to date by organisations and individuals has shown what can be achieved when people passionate about their industry get the opportunity to speak with the workforce of the future.

l Dr Colette Backwell is director of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation