New vocational qualifications released for processing sector

By Ahmed ElAmin

- Last updated on GMT

New competency-based vocational qualifications have been developed
for food and drink workers in the UK.

The qualifications standards is part of a UK government push to increase the skills levels in thecountry's food and drink sector. The sector has one of the most poorly qualified workforces in theUK, according to Improve, a government-funded organisation set up to deal with the problem. About 19per cent of the sectors workforce has no qualifications, compared to the average of 11 per cent forthe total UK workforce, according to a survey by the organisation.

Improve says the new National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) for food and drink workers apply in England, Wales and Northern Ireland andScotland. The qualifications can be achieved in the workplace and are meant to assess a candidate's competence whilst they are doing their job.

The new qualification is now called N/SVQ Food Manufacture.

The qualifications, divided into three levels, are available for new workers, for moreexperienced staff, for supervisory and for technical employees. A separate qualification isavailable for managers in the meat and poultry sectors. The training courses are structured around units of competence directly derived fromthe UK's National Occupational Standards (NOS).

"Previously many industries have had their own qualification, which although containing valuable content lacked the consistency and transferability across all the differentsub-sectors,"​ Improve stated in announcing the new training standards.

Now employers and employees will have to deal with one unique qualification which fits the needs of all the food and drinkindustries. The qualification was developed through consultation with industry. This qualification is made up of new standards and the best bits of the existing qualifications.

The qualification also allows individuals to pick and tailor their learning at the different levels to specialise in their areas of interest.

"This is great news for individuals and industry because for example if you are a butcher, you can now take part in an industry wide recognised qualification but specialise if you choose in areas such asbutchery skills or abatoir skills,"​ Improve stated. "If you are a baker however you can take the same core qualification but specify in for example, craft bakery."

Details of the qualifications are available at the Improve site:

Earlier this year the organistion released a survey showing that one-third of staff in the processing sector have no qualifications at all. In addition there is a significant under-representation of females to males.

Males make up two-thirds of the sector's workforce compared to the national average where males make up a little over a half of the entire UK workforce.

As part of a bid to solve the problem, Improve began an assessment of the skills shortage in the industry has been completed. The Skills Needs Assessment (SNA) is the first stage of the food and drink manufacturing Sector Skills Agreement (SSA) being developed by Improve.

The SSA is an agreement between employers, the government, partner organisations and Improve to deliver an agreed action plan to meet the most pressing skill needs of the sector.

"The overall aim is to drive improved business performance by recruiting the right people with the right skills delivering them to the right place at the right time," Improve has stated.

The development of the SSA is made up of five stages. The SNA is the first stage and provides an assessment of the current and future skill needs for the food and drink industry. It is made up of three reports. One is on the key trends driving the food and drink manufacturing sectors.

Another report examines the current skills needed in the sectors. The third report forecasts the future skills demands in the sectors.

The SNA reports found that 52 per cent of the current workforce has qualifications below those needed in the industry, or no qualifications at all. Another 28 per cent of employees only have basic skills, Improve found.

The increasing automation across the industry means different skills are required from the workforce. With production lines becoming morecomplex and demanding the shortage of skilled workers in the UK industry is acute.

The scenario forecasting showed that the food and drink industry needs to recruit 118,000 more employees to fill current job roles opened by the existing workforce retirement or migration to other industries.

Stage two of the SSA focuses on assessing current training programmes meant to supply the food and drink manufacturing sector with skilled workers.

"The assessment will review the extent and quality of current provision and whether existing supply is sufficient to meet short-term and long-term skills needs of the sector," Improve stated.

The agency plans to complete the full SSA by the end of this year.

Last year Improve created created an accredited system to help employers check the qualifications of potential employees. The "Green Card" system provides employees with a record of the accredited training they have taken in the industry.

The UK'S food and drink manufacturing sector employs somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 staff, or about 1.6 per cent f the total UK workforce.

Improve was established in July 2004 by the Skills for Business Network and is sponsored by the UK's department for learning and skills.

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