Love your food? This could be the career for you

Ahead of Scotland's biggest free food festival of 2017, we look at the career opportunities in this £1.2 billion Scottish industry
Your next career could  be served up on a plateYour next career could  be served up on a plate
Your next career could be served up on a plate

Hairnet on, standing in a production line in a factory, looking for broken biscuits; slicing piles of onions under an angry chef’s stare; mixing up mojitos for sozzled businessmen until 1 in the morning. You may have some set ideas of what it means to work in the food and drinks industry, but a lot of the myths surrounding the sector are woefully out-dated.

People still think that a career in the industry means a low-paying gig with little-to-no future prospects and crummy working conditions. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

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In point of fact, the food and drinks’ sector is the UK’s largest manufacturing sector. In Scotland alone it grew 11 per cent year on year in the first quarter of 2017, generating a whopping £1.2 billion sales.

So, what does a career in food and drink look like?

The answer to that depends on what you want out of your job. Bit of a STEM boffin? Food scientists and technologists work to ensure food products are safe, or to innovate new products; (banoffee caramel digestives won’t invent themselves, people).

Amateur Don Draper? Marketing is a huge component of the industry – savvy Scottish brands like BrewDog or Black Isle arguably owe the success of their businesses as much to excellent branding as they do to their tasty brews.

Outdoorsy? Farming crops, livestock, fishing on the open sea, farming fish – there are plenty of options if a lungful of fresh air is a prerequisite for a happy working day and your crave getting your hands dirty.

Quality assurance, chemical engineering, corporate affairs, procurement and logistics, nutrition and wellbeing, research and design – there are many more aspects to the industry beyond factory or kitchen work.

Appetite whetted? Here are the progression pathways

There is a long-term shift towards people needing some form of skills or qualification to progress into the industry: it’s projected that by 2022 46 per cent of all food and drink jobs will require at least a SCQF 7 qualification in Scotland. Fortunately, there are a variety of ways to gain qualifications.

For those looking to earn as they learn, there are apprenticeships available within the industry that offer hands-on training, at a number of businesses of varying sizes. Apprenticeships (link currently in the offing include confectionary, engineering, electrical engineering, process operator, or recruitment coordinator.

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The academic route can include degrees biology, microbiology, chemistry and biochemistry, marketing degrees, or design degrees. The benefit here is that most people within the industry are furnished with a suite of ‘transferable skills’; and while that term may sound like recruitment waffle, in practical terms it means if you want to transition out of the industry your employability will be high elsewhere.

College degrees and qualifications combine the best of both worlds.

Fine, fine. But what do I earn?

Well, of course that depends on what career you take. But it is encouraging to know that the food and drink sector survived the recent financial crisis in more robust shape than any other sector within the UK. The industry has good promotional prospects: you can start as an apprentice, and provided you continue to learn and develop your skills you could become a manager and earn a higher salary. A food technologist’s starting salary, by way of example, may be £20,000, and can rise to up to £45,000

Room for progression

£1.1 billion is spent in the UK on research and development within the food industry, with 8,000 new products launched each year. That means the field is one that is in constant flux and requires creativity and innovation, with plenty of opportunities for change.

A genuine growth industry

In March, the Scottish Food and Drink Partnership, in conjunction with the Scottish Government, launched ‘Ambition 2030’, an industry-led strategy designed to double the turnover of the industry within Scotland by 2030, to £30 billion annually.

If you’re looking to start a career in the industry, this scheme means you’re entering into a field with committed funds towards education, innovation and mentoring, one in which key stake-holders have promised to work together to continue to stimulate growth.

More simply: the food and drink industry in Scotland is both strong and successful, and all best indicators suggest it is going to grow even more so. As a field to head into, it’s as close to a safe bet as you’ll get.

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Ready to meet some of the industry’s top careers experts, many of whom are recruiting now? Head to Scotland's Food and Drink Show at The Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston, Edinburgh, on Saturday and Sunday October 14 to 15, from 10am to 5pm both days.