Uncertainty over worker availability in the food manufacturing industry

As Theresa May’s snap election backfired and we are faced with a hung parliament, and Brexit negotiations even more unclear, businesses are left still concerned about the future of the food and farming sector.

Politicians have been urged to protect Britain’s food manufacturing sector, worth £109bn, and believe that industry and economy need to be at the top of the table.

Ian Wright, Director of FDF, said: “Food is a matter of national security. Food and farming is the sector most impacted by Brexit and the EU. It is imperative that the new government recognises this, and the importance of the food and drink industry in relation to the success of the wider UK economy.”

A recent survey of 400 recruitment agencies conducted by the REC, revealed that demand for staff is the highest in 21 months, and the amount of people available for those jobs has plummeted.

Tom Hadley, REC Director of Policy, revealed that unemployment has dropped to the lowest level since 1975, and the EU citizens are leaving the UK in droves. Employers seeking to fill vacancies are running out of options.

RSM head of manufacturing Mike Thornton, said that the number of EU workers able to work in the UK after we leave the EU would cause massive disruption to the entire food supply chain.

In a recent paper by the Food Research Collaboration, it was revealed that there will be a potential labour shortage if the supply of EU migrants decreases after Brexit, and the UK food manufacturing workforce is roughly 117,000, made up of EU migrants.

There is an ageing workforce, and a need, according to the study, to recruit up to 140,000 new workers by 2024. The report is attempting to force the food industry to rethink its approach to recruitment, careers, and how food is produced.

What could be done?

  • Attract young talent using marketing strategies.
  • Ensure that those who teach are fully qualified experts.
  • Career progression – regular reviews and action plans.
  • Pay increases when warranted and appropriate.
  • Job security – permanent contracts.
  • Better working conditions – benefits, flexibility.
  • Introduction of new technologies that make the job easier and ensure the food manufacturing sector is keeping up with the modern times.
  • The government to develop home grown talent. The FDF believe the next government must commit to long-term investment in skills and apprenticeships so that UK remains the destination of choice for multinational food and drink manufacturers.

Dr Adrian Morley, a Researcher at Manchester Metropolitan University, said: “We need to decide as a society what type of food system we want – one that provides good quality jobs and long-term careers for the majority of its workers, or one that is subject to the vagaries of world markets which are often dependent on low-skill, low paid work.”

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