UK's shortage of scientists, technologists hurts industry

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food and drink

A shortage of food scientists and technologists in the UK has left
about 25 per cent of the positions in the industry unfilled,
according to a survey.

The shortage is expected to continue into the future unless a programme of education and incentives is offered to attract candidates, says Improve, a government-funded agency charged with skills training for the food and drink sectors.

The lack of people to fill the shortage places increased pressure on employers through decreases in productivity, sales or profits. Product development is also held back due to the vacancies, make a company less competitive.

Food scientists study the primary interactions of the physical environment upon food. This may cover roles such as quality assurance. Food technologists use and translate the work of the scientists into a saleable product and one that can be produced on an industrial scale.

When asked to describe the activities undertaken by, or job titles used, for food scientists and technologists, survey participants said they were involved in in "quality assurance", "product development", "production", "process control", "management", "research and development" and "audit".

Improve estimates there are about 2,360 vacancies in the industry for food scientists and technologists over the last 12 months. The figure includes both newly created roles and vacancies due to staff turnover. The finding implies that up to one in four roles were vacant over the last year.

Overall, 53 per cent of food and beverage companies employing more than 50 staff in the UK currently employ, or have a vacancy for, food scientists or technologists.

"Employers have told us that recruitment for these roles is more difficult compared to two to three years ago and the top of mind issue facing these employers is the quality of applicants,"​ Improve stated in the survey report.

A marked drop in applications and acceptances to university and higher education in science and food science courses indicates that student interest in such subjects has decreased significantly, Improve found.

"Consequently, the decline in graduates in these disciplines poses a threat to the future development of the industry as there are insufficient food scientists and technologists to promote the growth of the food and drink industry in the future,"​ the agency stated.

The findings indicate that shortages in food scientist and technologist personnel are perceived as being driven more by an increase in demand from companies than a shortage in the supply to fulfil the roles. The supply has remained broadly constant, Improve found.

Among those perceiving a shortage at the current time, the most mentioned factors seen as contributing to the problem were the industry's image, the general decline in people studying science subjects at school and a lack of calibre or quality of applicants.

Companies experiencing a shortage said the lack of applicants meant an increased workload for existing staff, more costs to the business and decreases in production, productivity, sales or profits. About six per cent of the respondents cited "decreased competitiveness" as a result of the shortage.

Overall, 11 per cent said that the shortage had had a "significant" impact on their organisation.

About half of respondents agreed that there is a shortage of people to fill food scientist and technologist vacancies.

Related topics: Markets

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