Wales aims to close food and drink skills gap

Plans to close the expanding food and drink sector skills gap in Wales have been given a boost recently, in light of a scheme to attract 75,000 new recruits in the next decade.

The announcement was made following a food summit held this month, which was attended by over 100 business leaders from across the sector. However, it was shadowed by a question raised by a food marketer who asked why working with food and drink was not seen as ‘sexy’ as working in the media or sport.

In order to overcome the negative stigma surrounding the food and drink industry, the ‘Future Skills... food for thought’ campaign was created and has been well received by the industry.

One of the first food businesses to take part in the campaign is Capestone Organics, which is using the project to endorse and up-skill existing workers, as well as attract new ones into Wales’ food and drink sector.

Business development manager at the company Emily Davies explained how they were breaking the negative stigma and said: “We’re working with primary school children – 170 pupils have already visited this year so far – they see everything from the day-old chicks, to the working factory. All the time, we’re reinforcing the link between food and farming.  

“If we don’t do this, if young people don’t understand where their food comes from, how can we possibly have the skills necessary for the industry in the future? We also need to improve the image of the industry to compete with other sectors like sport and the media, which find it much easier to attract new entrants.”  

Meanwhile, Sian Roberts-Davies, business development manager from the UK’s Sector Skills Council Lantra, explained that, for the Welsh food and drinks sector to thrive, it needed enthusiastic, capable and skilled employees.

She said; “Recent research commissioned by Project partners found that 45% of food businesses reported technical skills gaps which needed filling in their workforce not to mention a range of skills likely to grow in further importance over the coming years.”

Welsh food and drink sector at a glance [bullet points]:

Around 230,000 people are employed, in total, by the Welsh food and drink industry.

The food and drink sector is the largest employer in Wales, making up 18% of the Welsh workforce.

Ł6.5bn in sales is generated by the sector annually.

Approximately 14,000 workers in the country’s food and drinks sector have “skills deficiencies” of some sort.

Nearly half (45%) of businesses in the sector reported technical skills gaps within their workforce.