IFST chief executive Jon Poole said the UK was already struggling to generate sufficient talent to fill vital roles in the food industry. Food scientists and technologists are known to be in short supply.
“The UK food sector is already struggling to attract sufficient talent to fill the skills shortages in roles – especially food science and technology roles,” Poole told FoodNavigator.
However, an additional problem was that many of the positions on food science and food technology courses were being taken by students from overseas, he said. As soon as they finished their courses, they were continuing their food industry careers outside the UK.
Many existing graduate and postgraduate courses were taken up by a significant number of overseas students, said Poole. “Regrettably many, having been educated in this country, are choosing to return home or travel to other parts of the world to fulfil their food careers”.
He laid some of the blame for this at the feet of government rules that made it harder for those from overseas to remain in the UK after their studies had ended. “Placing additional restrictions on foreign students and their ability to stay in the UK once qualified can only make the situation more difficult.
“Of course this is an issue for all sectors, not just the food sector but we do know that the skills issue is particularly acute in these types of roles.”
He suggested that more food and drink manufacturers could explore sponsoring students as a way forward. “One avenue which food employers need to explore is whether they are in a position to provide sponsorship of students during their studies so that they can be assured of holding on to the very best talent when they finish their full-time education.”
His comments follow Kraft Foods’ pledge last week to recruit 54 food manufacturing apprentices in the UK in 2012.