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  • Writer's pictureMeyrick Consulting

2020 might be the year of disappearing workers

There is a significant threat lurking behind all the foodie headlines

Yes, the food and drink industry is exciting. Having come back from the Food Ingredients exhibition in Paris two weeks ago I saw for myself what incredible opportunities are being developed. There is an unstoppable push towards plant-based foods and the technology is awe-inspiring.

Our palettes can be very sophisticated and the search for imaginative and taste bud tingling beverages does not stop. From infusions, designer teas to vodkas, craft beers and all points between we are all in search of exciting things to drink. Producers are only happy to take us on extraordinary adventures. Philleas Fogg would have been proud. In addition we can order food anywhere and anytime and the sector is set to grow. However, there is always a caveat in such a success story. In addition there are some ethical considerations which will add further complications; from palm oil to sustainable food supply chains, from veganism to plant based technology solutions, deforestation and soy products to increasing yields and shifting tastes; there is much to consider.

Photo Claudio Scwarz

I don’t want to to pour cold gravy on the annual turkey dinner, but it seems to me that people may well be the problem, or at least a shortage of them. As in all traditional careers it appears youngsters have other things to do and working within the food and drink sector, as anything other than an entrepreneur, does not seem to hold much appeal. Despite there being masses of jobs to suit all entry points, fewer people seem to be attracted to the work. Added to this, post Brexit, the seasonal worker shortage may well become acute. Therefore expect pressure on farms to find staff at the picking, and packing end. Yet you may not realise that the biggest threat to our Food and Drink Industry is regarding highly skilled workers acquisition. It will need an enticing and imaginative campaign to help careers advisors and the general public to adjust. Many have not adjusted to just how complex and challenging the contemporary food and drink landscape really is. If challenge, innovation and pressure, good salaries and career progression are hallmarks of a good job then the food and drink sector can offer them all.

Vacancies such as operations managers, food technologists, beverage technician, tasters and buyers, packing technologists, biochemists and bio technologists are just a few of the opportunities available right now. The Food and Drink sector knows the heat is on regarding recruitment. Therefore in 2020 and beyond we are likely to see graduates being targeted more specifically. Apprenticeships and post graduate training schemes with guaranteed post project placement will probably become the norm.

Photo Jon Tyson

Added to this the UK has recently seen a drop in unemployment. With the door being closed to labour access from the European Union it is likely that increased mechanisation and also A.I will be key to satisfying the increasing demand for goods and services. Just thinking about the supply chain from growing and procurement to product development, manufacturing, packing, logistics many people are required to ensure the latest vegan taste sensation ends up on a plate with your name on it.

It strikes me that digitization and A.I will eliminate many of the backbreaking, traditional jobs. However, engineering, data analytics, engineering and programming will be the winners. With challenges like feeding a growing population and shifting what, when, where and how we eat for personal health and the future of the planet there is much to consider in 2020 and beyond. Transformational technology will affect productivity profoundly. However, as a by product it will afford brand new and highly skilled jobs that may well be more attractive to the labour force.

I think that we need more than a digital transformation; we also need a shift in attitude right across the industry. If the sector faces a recruitment challenge then the pressure is on to shift how candidates and workforces are grown and developed. Ongoing training and investment in people are essential. Finding the right people with whom to do just that will be key, of course. Developing a loyal, go ahead, challenged and open-minded workforce happy to learn just in time will be essential. People will know their value and they will be making ethical decisions about a company’s philosophy before they take up a job.

Photo Sven Mieke

There are many exciting opportunities in this sector for sure but there are also a number of significant threats that need to be planned for. As a professional recruiter I am always looking for ways to improve and develop in this fast moving sector. There is much to mull over during the Christmas break. I’ll let you know where I’m at in January. Have a fantastic Christmas and a very Happy New Year. See you in the next decade.


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