Food and Drink Skills Crisis: Let’s Support our SMEs

Wednesday, March 06, 2019 - 10:10

New State of the Nation Report from Food and Drink Industry

Ahead of this year’s National Apprenticeship Week, the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink has released a ‘State of the Nation’ report, looking at the health of the UK’s food and drink workforce and the impact of the Apprenticeship Levy on the food and supply chain

Led by Justine Fosh, Group CEO of National Skills Academy for Food & Drink (NSAFD) and assessment organisation Occupational Awards Limited (OAL), the report was commissioned to inform the work of the new Food & Drink Sector Council. The report looks at the specific skills issues across the supply chain and examines the remaining challenges and barriers preventing more of the industry undertaking apprenticeships.

The report surveyed trade organisations and representative organisations from across the food and drink supply chain, including representatives from organisations such as National Farmers’ Union (NUF), Food and Drink Federation, British Hospitality Association, Lantra and Landex.

Although the report acknowledges that, broadly speaking, the Government’s reforms are ‘working well’ across the food supply chain, is critical that SMEs are being left behind in the system.    

Justine Fosh, who prepared the report, said: “Overall, the new system has been broadly welcomed by the food and drink sector, however across the board the consensus is that non-levy paying companies are missing out on the opportunities.”

“Government reforms have sought to put control of the system - including the means to pay for apprenticeships - in the hands of employers, however this is not the case for SMEs. SMEs do not pay the levy and so don’t have their ‘own’ funding pots, they are reliant on providers who have been successful in gaining special contracts to work with them. Not all of these providers have the specialist capability to deliver an apprenticeship to food businesses and so this mismatch can result in SMEs being unable to access the new standards.”

The NSAFD supports an employer driven quality initiative to recognise high quality food and drink providers as ‘Industry Approved’ which goes some way to providing the industry with a reassurance about capability.  Recent research identified that 96% of employers would prefer to work with these providers, as they understand that they have been through a rigorous approvals process demonstrating their credentials.

In response to the report, the NSAFD on behalf of the Skills Working Group are convening a specialist group to look at how provision can better serve the needs of the food supply chain.

Justine continued: “We already know what great provision looks like as we have got examples of Industry Approved providers who are already operating with smaller businesses. Through the forum, however, we aim to develop some tangible and specific solutions to further improving the quality and availability of apprenticeships for all.”

Further research into the skills requirements of the wider food chain is already underway by the group, championed by FDF. The research project brings together the view of the entire food chain, plus official Government data and business insights to create a research report which will provide a clearer understanding of the labour force across the whole food and drink supply chain and will support the groups work with Government on future workforce planning.

Click here to download the full report