Perceptions of the food industry are changing and manufacturing is becoming a more popular career for young people, according to Mars UK president, Fiona Dawson.
Dawson exclusively told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Manufacturing has become cool again. We’ve come through the banking crisis and now kids are growing up in the austerity regime. They see their parents and friends out of work. Then they see [that food manufacturers are] companies that make tangible products.”
Dawson agreed that the pendulum was starting to swing away from celebrity and media culture as manufacturing became a more appealing career for young people.
She said the calibre of applicants that Mars was receiving from the new generation of employees was rising and the quality was “fantastic”.
Mars has used social media to attract young people to its brands.
Social media to attract young people
The company set up a ‘tweet shop’ that used a virtual vending machine offering free products to chat with young people and learn what they expected from their career and their employer.
“We had fun with it and used it as a vehicle,” said Dawson.
Mars learnt that the new generation expected more career progression than their grandparents would have done. They were also more educated and more interested in ethics and sustainability, so the company had to be transparent around such practices.
Work–life balance was also very important so Mars offered staff perks to suit every type of employee, such as sabbaticals for younger employees who wanted to travel and flexible working hours for parents.
Interestingly, when asked what kind of candidates stood out for Mars as an employer, Dawson said it was the people who had survived difficult experiences.
Survived difficult experiences
“I’m a parent myself and, as a parent, you look for the best grades for your children. But, as an employer, you’re really looking for the most rounded individuals that have overcome personal adversity, who maybe haven’t had things go so well for them.
“They’ve learnt from challenges and so-called failures, such as not being picked for a team, and they’ve got stronger from it. But I’m not saying we wouldn’t employ the A-star student who was captain of the football team. I’m not into positive discrimination.”
And her advice for food manufacturers who wanted to attract more young people to their companies?
“An employer has to be confident and articulate about the offer they have to give. It’s about getting out there and telling your story. It’s not just about traditional ways of communicating matter such as career fairs – we see social media increasingly playing a much bigger role.
“We will do everything from talking to mums to talking to kids – we have many different entry points. We have increased our numbers of apprentices for many kids in school. Once they start to think about their future an apprenticeship is much more attractive.
“As an industry we need to make apprentices really destination opportunities for youngsters. At the moment they still have a second-rate second citizen feel about them.”