Appetite for the future: apprenticeships in the food and drink sector

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The launch of FoodDrinkEurope and EFFAT’s European Alliance for Apprenticeships Pledge in the European Parliament [FoodDrinkEurope]

Like many other industries, the food and drinks sector is having difficulties hiring highly skilled workers. Apprenticeships, argues Mella Frewen, are crucial in developing the skills needed and retaining qualified workers, aruges Mella Frewen.

Mella Frewen is director general of FoodDrinkEurope, the European food and drink industry association.

The employment and employability of young people has been a huge challenge in recent years.

However, there is a persistent paradox that most industries face: they encounter difficulties recruiting a new generation of young workers with the right skills, while 5 million young people across Europe are unemployed and ready to begin work.

Nearly two million jobs are vacant in the EU due to a mismatch between the skills of the unemployed and the skills required for available jobs. Clearly we have to reconcile this mismatch. The food and drink industry has traditionally been one of Europe’s most resilient and dynamic economic sectors. It is the biggest employer in Europe’s manufacturing sector directly sustaining 4.24 million people. Yet today, the industry is having a tough time finding some of the skills it needs to keep it competitive. It has experienced a drop of 30-40% of young employees between the ages of 15-24 over recent years, potentially leading to long-term problems related to succession planning and loss of specialist knowledge.

Our recent research shows that young people looking for jobs have a lot of misconceptions about the work and career opportunities in the food and drink sector. This explains partly why the industry is having difficulties in hiring highly skilled workers, such as food scientists and technology experts, nutritionists and new product designers. At the same time, young people are often ill-prepared to meet the demands of working in manufacturing, forcing employers to train new recruits on the job which can be time intensive and costly.

It is therefore crucial that industries and trade unions partner to look into innovative ways to recruit and improve succession planning, in order to make sure they build a qualified and sustainable labour force for the future and keep the sector attractive for the workforce already engaged. Apprenticeships are an essential means of developing the skills needed and retaining qualified workers.

This is why FoodDrinkEurope is joining forces with EFFAT (the European Federation of Food, Agriculture and Trade Unions) to launch the Youth Apprenticeship Pledge for the food and drink industry. The pledge aims to facilitate the uptake of high quality apprenticeships in food and drink manufacturing companies across the EU, especially by small and medium sized enterprises. The key words being “high quality”.

By this we mean offering a combination of academic and on the job training which provides the skills necessary for advancing the industry and meeting the expectations of young people who are looking for career opportunities. Starting with the skills necessary for food manufacturing, but going further to address the wider challenges facing the sector, including a growing global demand for food in a limited space and the threat of climate change.

Ultimately we aim to ensure a qualified and sustainable labour supply for the European food and drink industry.

The pledge supports the work undertaken by European Alliance for Apprenticeships, an initiative of DG Education, which aims to improve the quality and supply of apprenticeship across the EU and to improve the image of apprenticeship-type learning. The Alliance will encourage stronger connections between the worlds of business and education; driving up qualifications and fostering innovation.

Furthermore, the increasing prominence of traineeships and apprenticeships has been accompanied by growing concerns as to learning content and working conditions. According to a recent Eurobarometer survey, one in three traineeships is currently substandard with regard to working conditions or learning content. In December 2013 the European Commission presented guidelines to enable trainees to acquire high-quality work experience under safe and fair conditions, and to increase their chances of finding a good quality job.

The FoodDrinkEurope and EFFAT Youth Apprenticeship Pledge will empower young graduates and students by providing them with access to quality training and practical experience through placements while at the same time raising awareness among FoodDrinkEurope members of the valuable contribution apprentices can make to their business.

The Pledge will thus help the Alliance fulfill two complementary objectives of labour market policies to fight youth unemployment and build up labour supply.

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