Speaking on a visit to the Shropshire Food Enterprise Centre, the Secretary of State met local food and drink businesses including the TASTE kitchen and Coopers Gourmet Sausage Rolls to learn about the challenges they face, including recruiting new apprentices.
The food industry is worth almost £90bn a year to the UK economy, but by 2017 it could be short of up to 100,000 skilled workers, especially in food technology.
Mrs Spelman said:
“Our food industry employs 3.7 million people and contributes almost £90 billion to the UK economy. But well qualified and ambitious candidates are needed to plug a big skills gap right across the food chain if it is to continue to grow and innovate.
“Local businesses tell me that they are eager to offer apprenticeships so I would encourage young people from the West Midlands looking for a challenging career in a growing sector to think about the food industry.”
During the visit Mrs Spelman met Kelly Jones, 18, who has just begun her apprenticeship as a chef in the TASTE kitchen at the centre.
Miss Jones said:
“I was really eager to find an apprenticeship because I wanted to work and learn at the same time. I’m gaining a lot of valuable experience which will stand me in good stead for a career as a chef and I don’t think enough young people take advantage of the opportunities available to them.”
In July this year Agriculture Minister Jim Paice announced 50,000 new apprenticeship opportunities in the food industry as part of an industry drive to get more young people into skilled food jobs. Improve, the sector skills council for food and drink manufacturing and processing, has predicted a need for 137,000 new recruits between 2007 and 2017.
Karen Davies, Chief Executive of Heart of England Fine Foods, which manages the centre, said:
“As a membership organisation consisting of hundreds of small food businesses we recognise that apprenticeships can have huge benefits for both the apprentice and the employer. We are really pleased with Kelly and are keen to encourage more young people into the industry.”
The Shropshire Food Enterprise Centre is managed by Heart of England Fine Foods (HEFF). The Centre was created specifically to encourage start-up and growing businesses.
In July 2011 Agriculture Minister Jim Paice launched the new Defra-sponsored action plan to get food businesses to run more apprenticeships and change the way young people to think about working in the food industry.
The Skills Action Plan for the Food Supply Chain was developed by a steering group of representatives from businesses, industry bodies and skills organisation partners, and a range of contributors from every aspect of the food supply chain. The full plan is available at www.igd.com.
More information about Apprenticeships can be found on the website of the National Apprenticeship Service at www.apprenticeships.org.uk.