Home grown talent: Bridging the skills gap with industry led apprenticeships

Monday, June 19, 2017 - 10:24

Over 109,000 new skilled recruits are required by the Food and Drink industry by 2024. With competition from the automotive and aerospace industries and just 1400 food related degree course places offered per year, it’s clear that traditional career routes alone aren’t sufficient to fill the gap. We take a look at the new government apprenticeships levy and explore the opportunities it brings for the food industry to attract and grow fresh new talent.

The new government apprenticeships levy offers a lifeline to the food and drinks industry, which has been welcomed by a consortium of industry stakeholders, led by the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink. Together with key industry partners they’ve invested significant time and effort into the creation of a range of brand new food industry career pathways. This new wave of apprenticeships are already bringing new talent and skills to the sector, assuring its prosperity into the future.

About the Levy

The Apprenticeships Levy has been created as part of a Government Policy to support increased productivity in UK PLC. All large employers, with a pay bill of over £3m per annum, have to pay the Apprenticeship Levy at a rate of 0.5% of payroll costs. These funds are then available In England* for a period of 24 months for the employers who have paid this levy to access and utilise against the cost of Apprenticeship training. It is an opportunity for employers to support skills development for new and also existing colleagues via apprenticeship programmes. The current Government target is 3 million apprentices by 2020 and is specifically aimed at delivering positive impacts and improvements to businesses within the UK. 

*Skills is a devolved area of government and the devolved nations have different approaches to support skills development.

What and who can the funding be spent on?

The Levy can only be spent on the cost of training an apprentice against a list of officially recognised apprenticeships, delivered by a recognised partner. Full details of the new levy and funding allocations can be found here. This offers an opportunity for businesses to integrate apprenticeships into their training programmes for new and existing colleagues. Apprenticeships are not just for 16-18 year olds, these can apply to colleagues of any age as long as it improves their knowledge.

The changing face of modern apprenticeship

'Most people initially think of plumbers or hairdressers when they consider apprenticeship as these hands-on roles are more traditionally associated with 'learning on the job’, said Ruth Jennings, Sainsbury’s Qualifications Manager. ‘Within the new apprenticeship programs we keep those hands on elements where it is right to do so. However, the learning routes have now being broadened with opportunities for apprenticeships across a range of levels and a cross section of industries. These include vocational training and professional services from level two, which is equivalent to five GCSE’s, to level seven, which is a post graduate qualification.'

By industry, for industry

Across the food industry, a range of programs are in development to support the huge variety of roles. They are designed to support industry to have apprentices with rounded knowledge, great skills and professional behaviours, enabling the qualified apprentices to really understand their industry and to be able to perform well within their chosen sector. The schemes support skills development across a variety of areas including; Food Technology, Food manufacturing and Supply Chain. There are also programs designed to support the key business skills of Leadership and Management. Understanding your business needs and opportunities is key to ensuring you make the right decisions about which programs could be right for you. 

‘The new schemes are unique because they are industry specific rather than role specific and that makes a huge difference,’ said Ruth. ‘For example; the newly developed Bakery apprenticeship begins with core learning around baking bread. It then branches off into three routes, artisan or craft, retail and plant. This delivers the specific development that is right for the environment that the apprentice is working in.'

Forging new pathways for Food Technical careers

The role of the technologist and technical manager is forever expanding. The heartland of quality, consistency and safety have evolved to include responsibilities of ethics and environment whilst requiring a firm understanding of commercial and supply chain, all the while keeping the customer at the heart of everything.

Just 1400 food related degree places are currently being offered annually and, for those attending, a year’s secondment in industry is increasingly being skipped due to the high financial burdens. 'It means that many of those who complete traditional courses for entry into food technical roles have a thorough academic understanding of the food industry, but require further training to fully understand production environments,' explained Jackie Carson-Long, Sainsbury's Technical Manager.

In order to bridge both of these gaps and to create individuals with academic qualifications together with experience, a workplace apprenticeship has been developed. Spanning four years, most of which is based in a food manufacturing environment, block university learning and on the job training give individuals the opportunity to achieve Food Science & Technology Level 6 or BSc.

‘This is the first Degree Apprenticeship in the Food and Drink industry and I am delighted with the response we have had from the industry as a whole,’ said Janette Graham, Chair of the National Skills Academy for the Food Science and Technology Steering Group. ‘It’s really exciting to see that we are laying down the foundations for new people to come in to the industry and opening up the possibility of higher education through another route.’

The program has been developed by companies throughout the food and drink industry including Bakkavor, Fermex, G's Fresh Produce, Haribo, Nestle, Oscar Mayer, Produce World, Sainsbury’s, Warburtons and 2 Sisters Food Group and in consultation with various Universities including Nottingham Trent, Lincoln, Reading, Chester and Greenwich, The National Skills Academy for Food and Drink, Campden BRI and the IFST.  During 2015 and 2016 the group contributed 2,000 hours to ‘getting it right’ and the aim is to create a career pathway that channels high potential employees directly into the industry.

Building career pathways

The food technologist apprenticeship is just one apprenticeship pathway in a comprehensive careers map for the industry. It’s known that engineering is a key area for recruitment for the industry by 2020 and the new Food and Drink Maintenance Engineer L3 Apprenticeship offers an opportunity to plug this gap. Apprenticeships now exist for many other roles applicable to the food industry, including; Process Operator, Supply Chain and also for specific product areas including bakery, fishmonger, butcher, Advanced Dairy Technologist and many more. A full list of apprenticeships currently available can be found here. 

"This is a really exciting development for our industry", said Janette. "The food and drink industry is larger than the UK pharmaceutical, aeronautical and automotive industries combined and we must all play a part in ensuring we take every opportunity to attract the very best technical talent and, through our networks, promote our sector as an employer of choice!"