A master-plan to boost skills in the food and drink manufacturing sector is being devised by sector skills council Improve.

The Sector Skills Action-plan (SSA), due for launch in January 2007, will set out what needs to be done to alleviate skills shortages, which result in unfilled vacancies and skills gaps.

According to Improve chief executive Jack Matthews, the SSA will be the culmination of a year of extensive research and consultation with representatives of employers, public and private training providers, and government departments, all of whom will have to agree to the plan before it can be implemented.

“The SSA will be the over-arching guide that determines the entire programme of skills development in the sector,” says Mr Matthews. “It will be the business plan that maps everything we do. The task of devising, managing implementation and continuously developing the SSA is our most important function.”

Continuous review

Improve will be responsible for co-ordinating the effort to put in place required additional training to meet the plan’s objectives, he adds. Over time, the SSA will be subject to continuous review in response to employers’ changing needs.

“While we work through the comprehensive programme of drafting the plan, we are not holding back on implementing some of the more wide-ranging elements that are already agreed – such as the establishment of a National Skills Academy, the introduction of the Green Card passport to skills, the overhaul of Apprenticeship Frameworks and the establishment of a new, co-ordinated Qualifications Framework through implementation of our Sector Qualifications Strategy,” says Mr Matthews. “This is the first time the sector has had the opportunity to have a properly co-ordinated plan to boost skills in order to drive up productivity and profitability.”

GCSEs equivalent

In related news, 14-year-old school pupils will soon be able to sign up for the first Young Apprenticeship in Food and Drink Manufacturing, the equivalent of four good GCSEs. Improve has steered the development of the two-year programme, which will allow students to spend two days a week combining studies at a local college and work experience with local employers. The other three days of the week will be spent at school, studying the national curriculum in subjects such as English, maths and information and communication technology.

Initially, three partnerships – at New Primebake in Cheshire; Smiths Flour Mills in Nottinghamshire; and Crown, Carman’s and Carrot Cake in Suffolk – have had government funding awarded to offer 80 Young Apprenticeships in Food and Drink from September 2006. Improve provided support and advice to all three partnerships in their bid to secure funding and will continue to work with them.

Next year, the three partnerships will have the opportunity to bid for further funding to enable them to offer more students an apprenticeship programme. Improve development director Derek Williams says: “This is the first time young people of this age will be able to gain such a wide range of skills and knowledge relevant to food and drink manufacturing.

For further information on Improve’s activities go to: www.improveltd.co.uk