A pioneering apprenticeship scheme kicks off this month to train 14 to 16-year-olds in food and drink manufacturing while they are still at school.
The first 65 pupils will start the two-year course this month at three trial centres in England. The apprenticeship programme was developed by Improve, an agency set up by government to address the lack of skilled works in the food and drink 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 sectors workforce has no qualifications, compared to the average of 11 per cent for the total UK workforce, according to one of its surveys. The industry also needs to find 118,000 skilled workers to replace those who retire from or leave the sector, according to another study.
The apprenticeship programme is one of the strategies developed by Improve and industry. During the two-year programme students will combine core
academic subjects, such as English and maths, with vocational study at college and up to 50 days of work experience with a local employer.
It will result in the equivalent of four qualifications under the English General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) system. The programme is meant to provide those who take the course a stepping stone for future careers in the food and drink sector.
The three trial centres are Nantwich in Cheshire, Bassetlaw in Nottinghamshire, and Ipswich in Suffolk. Further education colleges, employers and schools
have formed partnerships to run the programme.
The UK government is funding the programme. All available places in the programme were filled, Improve stated in a press release.
Job vacancies are available across all areas of food and drink including well paid food science jobs, Improve said. About 40 per cent to 50 per cent of existing management and senior official roles will need to be replaced in the next ten years, an agency survey found.
Meanwhile another programme, involving food design, has resulted in four teenagers at a school in Taunton devising a new chocolate sundae for the Cadbury range of chilled desserts. The sundae will be produced by Uniq in Paignton. The students were part of a competition held in the area by Improve.
Other school award programmes involved manufacturers such as Uniq, Oscar Mayer, and Isleport. The programmes are meant to foster links between secondary schools and local food and drink manufacturers.
The agency is also working on industry to forge action plans toward addressing the skills shortage. Earlier this year Improve and industry signed off on two of the five stages in developing the action plan. The agency is now working on stage three and plans to hold ten industry consultations events during September and October 2006 around the UK.
Stage one involved a series of three reports looking at demand drivers for the industry. The reports highlighted several key trends in the sector dealing with qualifications, areas of skills gaps and consumer trends.
Stage two reported on the current supply of training for the manufacturing sector, the extent and quality of training and whether existing supply is sufficient to meet the long and short term skills needs of the sector.
Stage three will examine the differences between demand drivers and current supply and in conjunction with employers and other participants. Improve will start to develop a plan for further training.
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.