What is causing the skills shortage in the U.K food and drink sector?

young chef, catering college,

Skills shortage, skills gap – it’s a familiar phrase across U.K industry. In recent times, the pre-Brexit climate has only highlighted the issue further.

What will the potential changes in immigration laws mean for the sectors heavily dependant on employing people from across the EU? The Food & Drink Federation (FDF) quotes that  – “one in five UK-based EU nationals are employed in the food and drink supply chain”. Outside the supply chain, in kitchens and eateries, the story is the same. Adam Hyman from Code Hospitality, a consultancy on restaurants and recruitment said – “Every single restaurant in London is constantly looking for people – and good people.”

The food and drink industry is important to the U.K economy, contributing £28.2 billion a year. The implications of Brexit are undoubtedly a major contributing factor to the food and drink sector skills shortage. Employers in the industry are reporting higher numbers of EU nationals returning to their home countries due to the uncertainty. However, the issue pre-dates Brexit, historically the sector has faced problems in attracting and retaining talent. This suggests that a combination of factors are the cause for the U.K food and drink skills and labour shortage.     

We’ve worked in the UK foodservice industry for 28 years, creating dishes ready to serve for restaurants, cafes and bars. During this time we’ve gained plenty of insight into some of the reasons that the food and drink sector seems to struggle in attracting and retaining skilled employees.

So what are some of the possible reasons?

Young people don’t want to be chefs or waiting-staff anymore

Catering colleges are seeing fewer applications and responses to job adverts to work in kitchens are less. There is a theory that the rise of the celebrity chef gave us the opportunity to look inside professional kitchens giving insight into daily life. For many young people, the gritty reality isn’t that appealing, 18 hour days, weekend work, lots of shouting and relatively low pay has cast a negative image on catering as a career choice.        

An ageing workforce

Research conducted by the Food & Drink Federation (FDF) finds that a third of employees would reach retirement age by 2024. This will create a workforce shortage of an estimated 140,00 people. Selga Speakman-Havard, FDF policy manager for industrial strategy, skills and employment said: “We recognise the need for the whole food and drink supply chain to come together to identify the gaps and the challenges to use so we can start building a really clear case for government”.

Promoting the opportunities

There is a common misconception that jobs within the food and drink sector are low-skilled and low paid. In reality, there is a huge amount of diversity in the opportunities available. With a relatively even split in the level of education required to do the jobs. Research conducted by the FDF shows that of workers currently employed in the sector – 30.8% of employees are low-skilled, in jobs requiring little or no experience; 36.7% are semi-skilled, in jobs requiring some experience and training; and 32.5% are skilled or highly skilled, requiring a degree or postgraduate degree/PhD and experience. This highlights the need to more effectively promote the broad range of opportunities available in the sector.

Next time, we’ll be exploring the possible solutions to the skills shortage in the UK food and drink sector. In the meantime, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Drop us a line or connect with us on Instagram or Twitter

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