What do you get when you cross an ex-coalminer with a cook-in sauce? Not much, according to East Midland food industry employers who are whipping up a scheme to combat a local skills mismatch. By Stephanie Sparrow
Like many areas of Britain, the East Midlands is re-inventing itself. Following the dethronement of King Coal and the twilight years of the textile trade, it is now aiming to become the kitchen of Britain.
The food-manufacturing sector is worth £4bn to the region and employs more than 55,000 people. Employers range from enduring major names such as Solway Foods - one of the UK’s major suppliers of fresh salads and sandwiches - to burgeoning SMEs such as Original Eastern, a producer of hand-baked ethnic snacks whose workforce is growing from 15 employees to 40 this year.
Yet there is a danger the region’s skills are lagging behind this growth. Research from an East Midlands Skills Summit backed by New Deal shows that 64 per cent of jobseekers aged between 18 and 24 have no qualifications. The fast pace of the industry means employers need to recruit and place staff quickly, but they sometimes find the new workers do not have the aptitude nor the attitude to come up with the most basic career ingredient - the Basic Food Hygiene Certificate.
Employers are stepping in to bridge the gap with the launch of a skills programme called Passport to Food. The initiative will be funded by the East Midlands Regional Development Agency to the tune of £180,000.
Those who will benefit are already members of the Food and Drink Forum, a regional employer group pulled together from across the spectrum by founder and manager Keith Taylor. Taylor notched up 25 years with Northern Foods followed by secondment to the Prince’s Youth Business Trust before being inspired to set up the forum and pinpoint the training and recruitment needs.
“There is a lack of understanding about the industry and the different jobs available, and consequently many people do not see it as an attractive option,” he says.
Agencies including Tecs and local authorities have identified the importance of food manufacture as an economic lifeline, particularly to former mining towns such as Worksop, yet there are