Invest in the skills transfer

Posted on 5 Apr 2015 by Victoria Fitzgerald

Dan Plimmer, head of FMCG at Jonathan Lee Recruitment, discusses the value of transferable skills to remain competitive.

Dan Plimmer, head of FMCG at Jonathan Lee Recruitment
Dan Plimmer, head of FMCG, Jonathan Lee Recruitment.

Everyone is talking about discount supermarkets – you cannot avoid their meteoric rise and the impact they have had on the UK’s shopping habits.

But, the influence of these retailers extends far beyond the reduced grocery bill for you and me. Competition in the market is good, but the current war on prices has increased the pressure on food and drink manufacturers to reduce their margins even further.

Consequently, there is now a renewed focus on process improvement among food and drink manufacturers who are seeking to sharpen their claws in this highly competitive environment.

Manufacturers are embarking on capital expenditure projects to upgrade plant machinery and equipment to deliver greater efficiencies and cost savings to the production process.

From replacing ageing equipment, increasing lines to accommodate new products and upgrading PLC systems, the focus is on how to produce the same product for less without compromising on quality.

While securing investment for such projects may seem like a significant hurdle, ensuring a business has the right people in the right place to lead and manage them is certainly the most difficult part.

The demand for engineers with experience in delivering capital expenditure projects in the food and drink sector is as high as it has ever been.

This is great news for candidates who can have their pick of roles, but with demand outstripping supply what are the options for employers who need this skill set for their business to grow and thrive?

Firstly, there is no quick fix. However, there is an opportunity to think differently about the type of candidates that would be suitable for a role and this doesn’t mean settling for second best.

While most job specifications would include a long list that starts with ‘sector experience’ and includes ‘chartered engineer status’ and ‘six sigma green belt’ as prerequisites for a project management role, employers facing a talent shortfall must think carefully about the essential skills required and those that fall into the category of ‘nice to have’.

Sector experience is often deemed essential by an employer and although the nature of food and drink manufacturing requires an individual who is comfortable with the pace and volume of production, it can be found in other areas of industry – in fact, the roots of fast-paced manufacturing are found in the automotive sector.

Candidates with automotive sector experience have a lot to offer food and drink producers, especially as it is where the principles of lean manufacturing and continuous improvement have been developed and honed to achieve first rate efficiency levels.

From cell workers on the assembly line through to the site director, continuous improvement is embedded in the way an automotive production site operates.

So, it is not surprising to see forward thinking food and drink producers asking for candidates with automotive experience as they realise the knowledge the candidate will bring outweighs the small investment in training they will have to make.

In a skills-short market, employers must look for transferable skills between sectors and business functions. We recently placed a project engineer into a procurement role for a capital expenditure project.

While he required some training on the procurement side, the experience and understanding he brought from his years in production enabled him to communicate from a technical perspective with prospective suppliers and ensured the installation process was quick and efficient.

With a small amount of investment on the part of the business, they were able to maximise the existing skill set of the project engineer for the benefit of the business and now have a multi-skilled project engineer amongst their workforce.

A multi-skilled candidate brings so much more to a business, but an entire workforce of multi-skilled individuals would have a transformational impact not only on the business, but on the sector as a whole.

All manufacturing businesses are looking to bring efficiencies to their processes, however, expanding the skill set of the workforce has to be a significant part of the current investment drive also.

To create this talent pool of multi-skilled engineers, employers need to be open to giving candidates from other disciplines and sectors the opportunity to develop their skill set in a different environment.

Without this flexibility, the current skills shortage will constrain the future growth and competitiveness of the food and drink manufacturing sector.