Track, trace, ping, pong, stop, go
How do you function without staff?
We are in the business of recruiting talented leaders. We also search for future leaders to bring into the food and ingredients industry. Therefore we have been watching with dismay at the recent impact of the NHS track and trace system. Let me hasten to add, we are not anti the system, but right now its negative impact may well be outweighing the intended role of protecting people from spreading the virus. Sadly, under the virus laden circumstances, it's also caused a lot of hot air to be expended as people grapple with its consequences.
The food industry has been experiencing extraordinary and profound staff shortages
This is as a direct consequence of so many people having been pinged by the app. Food manufacturers and supermarket distribution centres have all been impacted and probably all of us have seen what this has meant for the supermarket shelves.
Massive technological supply chain development means supply chains have many links
However, all this compounds some significant issues regarding food in the UK. Our own domestic production of food in the UK is insufficient. The situation is further compounded by just-in-time supply chains. Add a sprinkle of Brexit-induced labour shortages then the UK food system is under strain. In addition we rely on imports for almost 50% of our food needs. Most of the fruit we eat, that is 84% is grown outside the UK. This means that although we’ve seen massive technological supply chain development they are now so long they are hard to manage should a link break.
We need to rethink how we tackle the ongoing issue of virus management
Ironically, regarding the NHS Test and Trace app people were critical of the system saying that it didn’t work. Obviously that is not the case. But now the problem is how do we manage self isolation and covid spread without massive disruption? We need to rethink how we tackle the ongoing issue of virus management and also the positive continuation of British industry.
Photo: Nicolas J Leclercq
A holistic approach is required, and fast
The British Frozen Food Federation’s chief executive, Richard Harrow said that although the government has recently announced that workers can be tested and then allowed back to work after they have been pinged this will only be of limited use. He feels that those in positions of power do not fully understand the interconnectivity of the UK supply chain. It is not possible to open just one part. All this does is create more misunderstandings and will not resolve the current staff shortages. We need a holistic approach and fast.
Other commentators have been a little more optimistic
However, they do not believe that tests will enable people to return to work. The need to self isolate has been the biggest headache but unfortunately the new government amendments lack clarity. Nick Allen from the British Meat Processes Association says that sites are not sure if they are exempt from self isolation or not. Additionally it will take time to apply for exemption because this will need to be done at an individual level. Right now no one is sure which jobs might be eligible or how long clearance might take.
Agility is key
It does appear that the government is trying to respond to a fast changing environment but government agencies are not necessarily known for being fleet of foot. It is a worry that the increased levels of administration will be too much for government departments especially in August when traditionally many people take annual leave.
2021 is shaping up to be a year where goods and people are no longer in the right place at the right time
This demonstrates the complexity of the contemporary supply chain and how it is potentially extremely vulnerable on a number of levels. Although our ‘just in time’ approach has had a huge positive impact perhaps we have neglected to really plan for serious disturbance within the food supply chain. We have no excuse moving forward as Covid has laid these exogenous shock bare for all to see. Photo: Ishant Mishra
We watch developments with interest
Not only is the food and ingredients sector experiencing shortages of qualified staff to take on key leadership roles it is now experiencing considerable pressure to keep up with extraordinary demand. Resilience in every part of the industry must be built in. This is the opportunity to reappraise, rework and represent new approaches. As a business we have introduced a number of positive and exciting changes so we will watch industry developments with interest.
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