However you measure it – sales by volume, turnover, contribution to GDP, jobs and employment, or just keeping millions of people fed with sustainably produced safe and nutritious food – the UK’s food and drink sector is hugely important and offers fantastic career opportunities.
TV shows like ‘The Factory’ and ‘Food Unwrapped’ have begun to demystify and showcase the mind-boggling effort that goes into feeding a nation. And in the face of the Covid-19 epidemic, the entire food system demonstrated its adaptability and resilience, keeping food on the shelves in exceptional circumstances. Now more than ever the food sector is genuinely seen as crucial and professionals are recognised as ‘key workers’.
Our sector offers opportunities at every level: lifelong careers for those who join the sector as school leavers, degree apprenticeships allowing people to earn as they learn, graduate training schemes attracting students straight from university, as well as well-paid, interesting and rewarding roles, often global, enticing the brightest professionals into the food sector from across the science, technology, and engineering disciplines.
From the round-table discussions we at Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) have hosted and been involved in, know that food companies still report difficulties in attracting new talent into science, technology, engineering and similar roles. One of the main reasons for this is that the food sector is competing for talent alongside other seemingly ‘sexier’ sectors such as the automotive industry, aerospace and digital. The problem will not go away as we adopt more automation and introduce digital technologies, so we need to recruit talent to fulfil these new and very different technical roles.
Senior leaders and managers need to better understand and take advantage of all the opportunities and cutting-edge learning and development avenues open to them if they are to compete for and retain talent. This is not easy for managers working in such a pressurised and fast-paced industry. It is also not easy with so many changes coming on stream within the learning and development landscape. At IFST’s last forum events on education, careers and professional development, many attendees admitted that they were not fully up to speed with or taking advantage of the latest learning and development initiatives.
We need to be smarter at offering career and development opportunities that provide people with clearer career paths. One approach might mean businesses working more closely and collaboratively to showcase the sector in a more positive and impactful light. IFST takes that challenge seriously and we are working with our members, partners and stakeholders to facilitate this, and we really welcome this initiative from Food Matter Careers to bring together industry, academia and students.
Although IFST attracts well over 500 food science and technology students to membership, mainly from the UK but also many from Europe and the four corners of the globe, we recognise the need to get many more young people – and not only those following the standard university degree route -interested in pursuing careers in the food sector.
We have a responsibility to pull in the best-of-the-best if the food sector is to rightfully play its part in addressing the challenges of the climate emergency, population growth and inequality, obesity and health.
Are you ready to play your part?
Food Matters Careers: creating the future of food and nutrition
Attracting new talent to food and drink: “We need to start when children are curious”
A look at some of the rewarding careers in food and nutrition