Brexit is not solely to blame for the growing skills crisis across food and farming, according to a leading industry training group boss.
Professor Carol Wagstaff, director of the AgriFood Training Partnership, made the remarks as part of a discussion on the sector’s labour needs at the Food Brexit conference in London this week.
She said: “We need to recognise we had a skills crisis even pre-Brexit. We have been talking about this for a while.
“We are looking at our industry as a great opportunity for people coming out of universities and schools – well there are not people coming out of universities and schools with appropriate degrees at the moment.
“I work in a department of food and nutritional science, but there is not an A-Level for this. What we actually want are chemists who want to apply their science in the food and drink industry.
“We need a stronger pipeline. The idea of promoting the career opportunities which run through our industry is absolutely key, with or without Brexit.”
Professor Wagstaff went on to say the sector had to do better at engaging with children, ideally those of primary school age.
She pointed to examples of best practice, such as the college development network in Scotland where colleges, local businesses and universities join forces to show students different career opportunities in the industry, but said this work was not happening ‘on anything like the scale needed.’
A more disappointing lack of engagement with the Careers and Enterprise Company, which benefits from Government investment, was also highlighted.
Out of 1,500 careers ambassadors in the network, only 42 represent the food and farming industry.
Professor Wagstaff said: “We can address this; we can tackle it. We can be more engaged with these programmes and get better engagement with schools, but it is often the parents of the potential students who need convincing.
“If you say ‘I want to go and work with a retailer’, they imagine you sitting at the till. People do not understand what a wealth of opportunities the food industry offers.”