No fools in food

Posted on 4 Jun 2010 by The Manufacturer

Pressure on skills development for food and drink bears fruit as a new course to boost employee capabilities is announced.

Sector skills council for the food and drink industry, Improve, has been making a concerted effort in the months since the publication of the first UKCES National Skills Audit to raise the profile of the sector’s skills needs following fears that the audit had undersold the shortages faced by the industry.

As the UKs largest manufacturing sector and employer the food and drink industry is an important contributor to national GDP and has recently reported extremely positive growth in exports, defying the sluggish economic situation.

As with many manufacturing sectors however, food and drink faces a challenge in sustaining and building the workforce skills it needs to support this growth. As the industry looks to differentiate its offering for new markets, keep up with mounting red tape on additives, ingredients and sourcing and stay ahead of global competitors the skills of its food technologists and scientists in particular are a key area for concern.

The new course, announced on 3 June, focuses on addressing this skills gap in Scotland. In August, Glasgow Metropolitan College will become the first college in Scotland to offer the new Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Food Science and Technology, with the option to continue studying for a Higher National Diploma (HND) from August 2011. The HND course has just been validated by the Scottish Qualifications Authority (SQA).

The course is aimed at employees currently working in food and drink, as well as school leavers, who want to progress into roles such as food technology, new product development, quality control, process improvement and hygiene management and nutrition. The continuing professional development of food and drink employees is an important element in the food and drink industry which, according to Improve chief executive Jack Matthews who recently highlighted “the relatively high age profile of the workforce” when meeting with the new Secretary of State Caroline Spelman and Minister of State Jim Paice to discuss industry strategy. Matthews urged the new representatives for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to offer a “flexible and relevant training programme which employers trust to deliver results” and which enabled employers to continuously “re-train workers effectively to meet the changing demands of the fast-paced modern economy.”
On the new HNC course employees will be able to study on a part-time, day-release, basis and funding of up to £500 is available from the Individual Learning Account towards the cost of the course which is £540 per year for each employee. Improve has collaborated in the development of the qualification with the Scottish Qualification Authority (SQA) and Glasgow Metropolitan College. All three organisations have also worked closely with the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland (REHIS), as well as Forth Valley College and the Scottish Agricultural College to ensure the qualification meets employer needs and is fully deliverable.

Kelvin Thomson, Improve national development manager for Scotland, said, “All sectors of food and drink are facing shortages of food scientists and technologists. It is important to have a course that is flexible enough and broad enough in scope to serve the entire industry. Glasgow Metropolitan College is the first to deliver the course in Scotland but we hope that others will start deliver it as demand grows.”

“Encouraging existing workers to consider switching to food science and technology roles, which often lead quickly on to senior supervisory positions, is an important means of addressing the skills shortage in this area.”