Manufacturers must recruit new talent

Scotland's food and drink industry: 'a real success story'. Picture: Contributed
Scotland's food and drink industry: 'a real success story'. Picture: Contributed
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SCOTLAND’S food and drink industry is a real success story.

Brands such as Tunnock’s, Dean’s, Macsween and Scotch Beef are not only loved in the UK, they also enjoy an enviable reputation abroad.

Facing the challenges of feeding a growing population with less resources – we will need 50 per cent more food by 2050 – and continuing to grow in an increasingly competitive marketplace, businesses are embracing innovation to reduce their environmental impact and produce new products for an increasingly demanding and discerning consumer. The food and drink industry launches more than 8,000 new products each year.


Our ability to continue to grow sustainably into the future hinges upon the need for continuous innovation and recruiting talent with the particular skills that food and drink manufacturing demands. By 2020, the UK food and drink manufacturing sector will need more than 170,000 new employees to meet demand and replace retiring workers. The sector offers exciting, rewarding careers with diverse roles such as food science, technology, research and development, engineering and marketing, and many more. Starting salaries are above the national average, between £20,000 and £25,000.

At the Scottish Food and Drink Federation (SFDF) we work with manufacturers of all sizes to encourage young people across the UK to consider a career in food. Our Scottish Government-funded schools programme, A Future in Food, helps teachers, careers advisers and students better understand the food and drink manufacturing industry, the skills it requires and the school subjects to study in order to access the opportunities on offer.

One such partnership involves primary 6-7 pupils at Glamis Primary School in Angus working with Agrico UK, the Scottish-based seed potato company, on an award-winning schools programme called “Tattie Tastic”. The students visit the site, meeting staff, finding out what their different roles involve and learning all about potatoes and the journey they make from farm to fork. This has included the pupils planting, growing, harvesting, cooking and carrying out sensory evaluations of their potatoes, and designing and developing marketing campaigns for different varieties. Involving maths, science, art, English and other subjects, their teachers also extend this learning by using potatoes in the classroom – making potato clocks for science or looking at nutritional benefits of potatoes for health and wellbeing.

Careers and skills

SFDF’s careers and skills work is also supported by Skills Development Scotland through our Food and Drink Skills Ambassadors Programme, which aims to inspire young people about the industry and highlight the wide variety of careers available. The programme links ambassadors with school groups, careers events and other related activities, providing an opportunity for them to share their experience, knowledge and passion.

On top of this longer-term approach to making the industry relevant to younger individuals, food and drink manufacturers this year launched the UK’s first accredited food engineering Master’s degree (MEng Food Engineering). Developed in partnership between the Food and Drink Federation (FDF), the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink, and Sheffield Hallam University, where the degree will be taught, the MEng in Food Engineering is backed by many of the UK’s top brands .

Ucas is currently accepting applications for our first crop of students in 2014. These first 40 students will benefit from a competitive FDF bursary of £2,500, as well as paid summer work placements at top UK food and drink manufacturing businesses and a real chance of employment at the end of their degree.


As well as the graduate entry route into our industry, many food and drink manufacturing businesses offer apprenticeships which give people an excellent opportunity to earn while they learn. Last year FDF members pledged to double apprenticeships – we are proud to say that we in fact quadrupled them, and we remain committed to further increasing these opportunities.

Scotland’s food and drink manufacturing sector has a bright future and a lot to offer anyone looking for a career in a growing, diverse business area. We recognise that our sector’s continued ability to thrive and compete in the international marketplace relies upon our investment in a skilled workforce and our capacity to attract new recruits to rewarding careers in our industry.

• Colette Backwell is director of the Scottish Food and Drink Federation,

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