The UK’s food industry offers a diverse range of roles. From factory workers to scientists and analysts, and yet the sector is crying out for more talent. What’s more, the perception of job opportunities within the food industry is quite narrow. With Britain standing on the precipice of Brexit, it’s crucial the government invests in the future of the entire food sector and associated industries in order to increase our self-sufficiency.
The food industry provides a great opportunity for Britain’s export revenue. The number of products developed in Britain over the last decade has been consistently growing each year. According to the Harvard Business Review, the global population has quadrupled in 100 years, which coupled with higher incomes in developing countries, has put an ever-increasing strain on the global food sector.
With food demand likely to increase by a minimum of 50% over the next 30 years, the UK needs to invest now to overcome some of the barriers faced, and to position itself to take advantage of the growing demand.
The UK is renowned for its highly skilled labour force. In order to maintain and expand upon this we need to address the low number of students going on to study STEM subjects. While the number of STEM undergraduates has been increasing for a few years, there are still not enough people to meet all of the roles required. This shortage of STEM graduates provides a great opportunity for those looking for a long and fruitful career in the food industry. Jobs in science, research, engineering, and technology are all increasing at a higher rate than our educational system can produce potential candidates.
In addition to this, the UK needs to improve the quality and reputation of its technical education. In order to achieve this, we need to ensure the structure of our system produces individuals that meet the needs of employers.
There are factors outside of education that need addressing. There is a significant regional disparity in education and skill levels. For instance, 40% of students in London go on to higher education, while the rate for the North East of England is lower than 30%.
Female students are also less likely to study STEM subjects. We must look closely at any significant disparity and identify any barriers that might be preventing further development.
Industry 4.0 is also increasing the number of technology-based roles within the food industry. From robotics experts to data analysts, the future will favour those who are trained. This is partially due to automation taking over repetitive or dangerous tasks, which will remove some of the need for unskilled labour while increasing the need for highly skilled graduates.
However, this doesn’t just apply to the education of the younger generation, but also to the retraining and up-skilling of our current workforce. According to Government figures, around 20% of total labour productivity growth was due to up-skilling.
The UK has a strong educational infrastructure already in place. Our workforce is already highly respected globally. This puts us in a great position where we just need to address barriers by tweaking our system, rather than starting from scratch. The UK needs to capitalise on its strengths in order to ensure our economy and workforce remain healthy and well paid for generations to come.
Ensuring we remain at the forefront of innovation is critical to maintaining our competitiveness in an expanding market. We need to nurture the entrepreneurs and proven producers that can help lead us into the future of food manufacturing. The importance of the UK increasing its self-sufficiency while generating revenue through exports cannot be understated.
The UK already has 90% of the ingredients needed to be a leader in the global food industry of tomorrow. However, if the government and private sector fail to invest in the technologies and skills required to keep us at the forefront, the danger of being left behind by other countries could be catastrophic for the food industry and the wider economy.
While investment in STEM subjects needs to be increased, the opportunities for older students to retrain or up-skill is also vitally important. In order to be successful, the perception of the opportunities and roles available in the food sector needs to be changed. Students need to be made aware of the diverse range of roles and career prospects the growing food industry has to offer.
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