The Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) said that over recent years there has been a drop in student interest in food-related science-based subjects with a marked reduction in students studying food-related degrees.
IFST along with Improve (the Food & Drink Sector Skills Council) and the Science Council recently initiated an independently conducted project to determine the extent of the current problem faced by the UK food industry.
The results, said the institute, are significant. There is a clear increasing demand for food scientists and technologists over the foreseeable future, with more than half of employers saying that there is a shortage of people to fill food science and technology vacancies.
In addition, the IFST found that the recruitment process to fill food scientist and technologist vacancies is taking longer than two to three years ago. And the most prevalent issue mentioned by employers in recruiting to fill vacancies is the quality of the applicants.
IFST president Jack Pearce said that improving the supply and quality of people entering the food sector should be a priority. Indeed, the food industry needs to attract top quality graduates if it is to remain a cutting edge sector.
Bain, a management consultant, reported last year that the food industry was becoming an innovation backwater. Food blockbusters were history, the report said. R&D spend as a proportion of sales was less than two-thirds of that of the beauty and personal care industry.
Steps are being made. For example, an initiative by the International Federation of Plant Bakeries (AIBI) in collaboration with UK consultancy firm BakeTran and a group of European universities is seeking to develop top-notch food science graduates.
The Executive MSc in European Food Technology and Management will be an 18-month part correspondence and part attendance course, due to be introduced in Autumn 2006. The proposed course will consist of 12 months study of business administration (4 elements) and manufacturing and production (7 elements), followed by a further six months dedicated to product quality and the consumer (5 elements).
Entry is subject to the student holding a degree in cereal science or a related discipline, together with a minimum of three years bakery-related experience.
A six-month preparatory course of basic science will be available for unqualified students.
The Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST) is the independent professional qualifying body for food scientists and technologists. It is totally independent of government, of industry, and of any lobbying groups or special interest groups.