Improve is warning NI food manufacturers they face a skills gap unless perceptions of the industry are addressed.
The food and drink sector skills council, Improve, is urging Northern Irish manufacturers to address perceptions of working in the food and drink sector, having found only three per cent of 16-18 year-olds in the country are interested in a career in the industry.
There are currently 18,000 people employed in the Northern Irish food and drink manufacturing industry which is worth £3bn a year to the economy. Improve predicts 6,000 new staff will be required by 2017. Furthermore, there will be a 50 per cent rise in professional positions.
But the organisation found limited numbers of students know what food and drink courses involve and there is a lack of career advice on offer to them.
“This research shows the urgent need to educate students as to the benefits of a career in the sector,” said Jack Matthews, Improve chief executive.
“It illustrates that both parents and teenagers know little about the qualifications and careers available to them and there is a lack of information coming from the industry. Too many people still think of the industry as low paid and subject to poor working conditions.”
The research also found that a quarter of students believe the food and drink manufacturing industry can only offer short term roles and almost a third believe that salaries in the food sector compare less favourably with those in other industries. Matthews countered this notion by pointing out that top professionals in the industry earn up to £70,000 a year and said roughly one in four vacancies for food scientists and technologists across the UK are currently.
“We have to work together to communicate the opportunities available and help young people to understand that there are a wealth of careers available in food and drink and flexible vocational qualifications that ensure work within the industry is coupled with lifelong learning,” he added.