We are a highly experienced recruitment agency within the Food, FMCG and Engineering sectors.
UK: 01733 391 515 USA: (630) 423 3341 UAE: 600 575 215

Could ex-military engineers be the heroes the food industry needs?

July 3, 2024
Gareth Whyatt

It’s no secret that the food industry is suffering a number of personnel shortages right now – we’ve all heard about shortage of HGV drivers, warehouse staff and farm workers, but skilled engineers are also in incredibly high demand.

According to The Grocer, some food industry employers are spending £30k+ on recruitment to find the right engineers, and EngineeringUK has predicted that in a few short years (2025) there will be a shortage throughout the whole of the UK job market of 1.8 million engineers and people with technical qualifications.

When we stop and consider the enormous role that engineering plays in not only the economy and infrastructure of the UK – but the goings-on in our daily lives – this is shocking news.


Why is the UK food sector experiencing a shortage?

There’s a general feeling in the industry that a lot more needs to be done to encourage the next generation of engineers to enter the industry – but that’s just one factor at play here. The industry has taken a bit of a battering over the years, but we’ve seen first-hand how businesses are fighting to change this, and how those willing to take the leap into these businesses are justly rewarded.

Ageing workforce

One of the huge challenges facing the FMCG and food manufacturing industries is that their current engineers have often been in the workplace for 30+ years. It’s a job that, traditionally, saw individuals come in at entry level, as apprentices or graduates, and then stay with the business for their entire career. But people approach careers so differently now; according to insurer LV=, people stay in jobs for an average of five years now, meaning the apprentices and graduates that have entered the business are more likely to have left – they’re not there for the succession planning needed as engineers retire.

And engineers are likely nearing retirement – in fact, in 2014 the average age for an engineer was 54. Fast forward to today and we’re not just teetering over the edge of the ‘retirement cliff’, we are seconds away from free falling into engineering disaster. We are in the danger zone.

Lack of entry level talent

And things aren’t about to get better anytime soon. According to a 2020 report from EngineeringUK, 47% of 11- to 19-year-olds said they knew little or almost nothing about what engineers do, and the number of students entering technology subjects at first degree level has decreased by 61.4% in the past 10 years.

There’s not the young workforce with the desire to work in the industry, or with the entry-level skills – and that makes the danger zone even more threatening.

Outdated perception

There are plenty of reasons why there’s a lack of awareness around the career options within engineering – particularly in the food industry. Whether it’s a lack of knowledge in schools around engineering or the fact it’s just not an ‘in your face’ career option (it’s hidden behind the scenes), it means that people just aren’t considering it as an option.

Add in the fact that what perception there is of the industry isn’t always favourable, and you’ve got more of an uphill battle to bring people in. We won’t pretend that it’s been all roses in the FMCG and food manufacturing industries – it’s not a sexy industry. Traditionally it’s been tainted by difficult working hours, lack of benefits and there’s not always been a focus on career progression. But that’s changing – we know that businesses are having to be more and more competitive to attract and retain talent, and that means better renumeration and businesses putting more focus on working conditions.

Engineering generally is also challenged by a lack of inclusivity, making it difficult to recruit new people and adding to that ‘outdated’ perception. There’s a lack of women exploring career options in engineering and it’s something the industry is acutely aware of, with increased focus on making STEM subjects more accessible in the education system. But all of that takes TIME – and the pressure for engineers is on right now.


So it’s a bit of a perfect storm when you then add into the mix Brexit. The food industry has relied heavily on a geographically wide-spread of talent – particularly as many businesses are seasonal, and requiring extra support throughout busier months. Contract, temp and seasonal roles are common and were often filled by those travelling or staying in the UK for shorter periods. Brexit has made all of that far more difficult, leaving a gaping hole in the food industry.


And, as with everything else, Covid made all of that a lot more challenging too. FMCG and food manufacturing businesses were given key worker status, but demands rocketed and fluctuated (as you could see by what was on the shelves). Pressure was sky-high and that meant relentless working conditions, add in sickness and absence too and you can see how it would push things to breaking point.


Something needs to be done. And that’s why food manufacturing and FMCG industries – industries that were unsung heroes during the pandemic, and ones that pretty much worked miracles to keep shelves stocked and Britain afloat – are working to make themselves employers of choice to attract the skilled people they need so urgently. And that means there’s brilliant jobs to be had right now, for the right people.


The perfect fit for the engineering skills gap

Undoubtedly more needs to be done to bring young people into engineering but it’s not a solution that’s going to be ready any time soon. And the skills shortage is a here-and-now problem – but there is a here-and-now solution too, and it’s the perfect fit in our opinion: military engineers in the process of leaving, or who have already left, the forces.

Trained to the highest of standards, bringing diligence and expertise, ex-forces engineers are the much-needed answer to the food industry’s skills shortage. In our experience recruiting for food manufacturing and FMCG businesses, ex-military engineers are among the highest quality candidates we work with, transferring their military values, ethos, integrity, service experience and skills excellence.

We know the businesses we work with incredibly well – we know the type of person that fits their workplace, the skills they need and the benefits they offer in return. There’s a lot the FMCG and food manufacturing industries can offer ex-military personnel too, to name a few there’s:

  • Career stability: this is an industry that is relied upon by every individual in the country, and one which was given key worker status during the pandemic. It’s not going anywhere and the result, in an otherwise often tumultuous market, is that FMCG and food manufacturing businesses can be the calm in the storm.
  • Fast-paced environments: engineers will see their skills challenged and utilised with no two days being the same.
  • Innovative technologies: these private sector businesses are looking to remain competitive and grow, and as a result invest in new innovative technologies – making for interesting work for engineers.
  • Continually good salary prospects: private sector engineers received on average a 10% pay increase in 2020 according to The Engineer. To put that into perspective, the average nationwide pay increase was just 4.2% in 2021 according to ONS.

Making it happen

We’ve seen first-hand just how good the match can be between ex-military engineers and FMCG/food manufacturing businesses. But that doesn’t mean we take it for granted. We know that resettlement can seem daunting, and we know there’s more to the process that simply negotiating a salary and establishing shift patterns.

We can work with you to finetune your CV, identify training needs aligned with the industry and coach you through the interview process, being as supportive as you need us to be – we’ve got a track record in doing so.

Thanks to our UK-wide coverage, EU and US branches, we can also help you with relocations or finding a job to support you through civilian life where you are. Get the ball rolling and give us a call or send us an email – we’ll start with an informal chat about where you’re at, and we’ll let you know how we can help.

Contact us

Subscribe To Us

About The Author

Gareth Whyatt

After 12 years’ experience within the industry predominantly focusing on Operations and Supply Chain, founding The Sterling Choice has provided me with the opportunity to take a step back and focus on my passion for developing people and teams! As the self-proclaimed Head of Training I love seeing people develop and grow through the recruitment ranks and ultimately achieving both their personal and business goals.

For me The Sterling Choice is all about fun, results and collective success

Request A Callback

Looking to progress your career? Get in touch:

Our in-house team is highly experienced in placing professionals into the Food, FMCG and Engineering sectors. We work with leading organisations across the globe.
Subscribe to our newsletter
The latest news, articles, and resources, sent to your inbox weekly.
© 2024 The Sterling Choice. All rights reserved.

Get in Touch with Us

Have a question or want to learn more about what we do? We're here to help you.