Walkers warns of skills shortage

By Karen Willmer

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Scotland, Industry, Manufacturing

The government must do more to boost workers' skills if the
food and drink industry is to remain
competitive, according to a general manager of Walkers
Shortbread.

Speaking on behalf of Improve and the Scottish Food and Drink Federation at the Scottish Parliament last week, Gibson said a shortage of technical and skilled workers is holding back the food and drink manufacturing industry. He called on government to do more to ensure that people are trained in the right way to fill these roles. "If the food and drink manufacturing sector is to boost its productivity and competitiveness, management and supervisory skills must be raised,"​ said Gibson. "The Scottish government needs to ensure the education system - that supplies the workforce of today and tomorrow - fosters an entrepreneurial and enterprising culture, and that there is an adequate supply of appropriately qualified people to match the needs of business." ​He said that highly skilled workers are necessary for a competitive and productive business, and so the government needs to set a "framework"​ to help achieve this in the workforce. "In common with many other food and drink manufacturing companies inScotland, people, not competition wasn't in danger of 'capping' our potential to expand as we would wish,"​ he said. ​ Gibson also mentioned that 30 per cent of Walkers' workforce is from Eastern Europe, and so there is a need for English lessons or translation of company documents to combat the language problems. "In our experience, the recent influx of migrant workers from across the EU has resulted in a rich 'labour' seam which is well educated, with a strong work ethic,"​ he said. "However, with this positive benefit comes a challenge too - language in particular is an area in which more central support would be appreciated." ​ Improve released figures this week suggesting 10 per cent of those working in the UK's food and drink manufacturing sectors were foreign nationals in 2005, up 4.5 percentage points on 2003. The statistics indicate that European Commission proposals last week to make it easer for companies to hire foreign workers would be welcomed by food and drink processors. In raw figures there were 22,900 foreign nationals estimated to be working in the industry in 2003, a figure that grew to 35,600 in 2005, an increase of 55 per cent, according to Improve, the UK's skills training agency for the sector. The UK's food and drink industry has one of the most poorly qualified workforces in the UK, according to Improve. About 19 per cent of the sector's workforce have no qualifications, compared to the average of 11 per cent for the total UK workforce. One third of staff in the processing sector were found to have no qualifications at all. Improve's forecasting showed that the food and drink industry needs to recruit 118,000 more employees to fill current job roles, opened by existing workforce retirement or migration to other industries. 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 UK's food and drink manufacturing sector employs somewhere between 500,000 and 900,000 staff, according to estimates by Improve.

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