The Food and Drink Federation (FDF) has pledged to attract 137,000 new recruits to the food and drinks industry by 2017.

It announced at its Attracting Talent to Support Growth event on Monday that it wanted to double the number of apprentices by 2012 and the introduction of the first food manufacturing university degree within the next two years.

Justine Fosh, director of The National Skills Academy for Food & Drink, said there were concerns with how young people perceive the industry, with only 15% of 14 to 18 year-olds considering a career in food manufacturing and less than 10% interested in working in areas such as oils and fats.

Angela Coleshill, FDF’s director of competitiveness, explained that there was only around 2,000 apprentices working in food manufacturing sector. She said individuals are favouring apprenticeships in more popular areas of the industry, with more than 18,000 apprentices in food hospitality and around 12,000 working in food retail.

Three apprentices from some of the UK’s leading food manufacturers, spoke of their experiences within the industry at the event. This included Faye Hudson, a confectionery apprentice at Kraft, who said that competition to undertake apprenticeships is increasing.

“It’s all about being confident,” said Hudson. “When I applied for my apprenticeship at Kraft, I was up against 1,000 applicants for only six vacant positions. There needs to be more training for individuals before they go through these interview processes to ensure they are fully prepared.”

In addition to improving on apprenticeship numbers, the FDF was looking to develop a more focused food manufacturing degree with one or two UK institutions. This is to ensure graduates are undertaking a course that is fit for purpose and honed in on the training food manufacturers expect.  

“The quality of skills is not there from current engineering graduates,” said Coleshill. “With the increase of tuition and university fees next year, finding the best in new talent from a pool of graduates that is going to shrink in the future is a challenge.”

Fosh also highlighted the need to focus on recruiting more UK nationals, with 25% of the current workforce migrant labour. “We should be working towards a fairer playing field and contribute to the training of UK nationals who are currently without the skills,” explained Fosh.

Other speakers at the event included Sue Swanborough, HR director (UK and Ireland) for General Mills, which produces products for such brands as Betty Crocker, Old El Paso, Jus-Rol pastry and Nature Valley.

Pictured above are Apprentices Chris Brown, Faye Hudson and Tom Walden who work for the likes of Kraft and Nestle.