“We’re looking at very significant increases in employment over the next 10 years,” says Professor Colin Dennis, president of the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST) and member of the board for Improve, the UK’s food and drink skills council.
Food and drink is the largest single manufacturing sector for employment across the European Union, providing jobs for around 4.2 million people, according to FoodDrinkEurope, the recently rebranded confederation of food and drink industries. That is a 13.5 per cent share of the jobs market in EU manufacturing.
Predictions of growth are borne out by rising levels of recruitment activity. “There has been a lot of recruitment activity in 2010-2011 and the industry seems to be in good shape,” says Matthius Hennig, senior consultant with German-based international recruitment specialist Rau Consulting.
“We’re 60 per cent up on 12 months ago and last year was a record year for us,” agrees Stephen Jones, director of Focus Management Consultants.
“All over Europe our clients are looking for the same sort of high-calibre people and bemoaning the lack of talent available. Europe is also seen as a centre of excellence for the food industry around the world and that’s leading to a brain drain.”
Jones predicts that three key drivers will continue to boost demand for skilled food industry personnel: “Many companies didn’t take on graduates during the downturn, many graduates don’t recognise the opportunities on offer in the food industry and there’s an ageing population of senior managers right across Europe who are coming up for retirement.”
FoodDrinkEurope’s data on innovation indicates that food and drink companies have maintained consistent levels of R&D investment in recent years, leading to bright prospects for candidates looking to build a career in this side of the business.
Dennis believes that food safety, health and well-being and sustainability are all influencing the focus of development efforts. “Those are the areas that will continue to drive the need for evolving skill sets across the industry,” he says.
But Hennig argues that smaller companies are often driven to innovate by different priorities: “In small and medium size enterprises (SMEs) the focus of innovation is more on cost-optimisation.”
The differences between the biggest players and SMEs are crucial in a sector where small companies employ 62.8 per cent of the workforce, according to figures from FoodDrinkEurope.
While the major companies are recruiting graduates for their training programmes, smaller manufacturers are looking for people who can bring the right experience with them.
“Multinationals tend to have a broader perspective, recruiting people with an eye on what’s going to happen in the medium term. SMEs only recruit if they have demand right now and they focus on candidates that fit perfectly,” says Hennig.