About Lackham Farm

Skills Needed

In the South West, the industry employment trend was upward through the 1990s (growing by about 8,000 jobs 1991 - 1997) in contrast with the national, downward trend; but is forecast (by IER) to follow the national trend downwards over the next decade – an estimated employment trajectory of:

1999 2000 2010
36,000 jobs 44,000 jobs 36,000 jobs

For the future, therefore, the overall forecast is for declines in all occupations in the sector but those declines will be of a different scale in different occupations.

  • sharp decline in skilled food craft occupations (butchers, bakers etc.), bottlers, canners, labelers, packers, administrative and clerical staff.
  • Moderate declines in process and machinery operatives, skilled engineering crafts, sales occupations, basic support (cleaning, etc.) senior management.
  • Minor declines in science and engineering professionals and associate technical staff and in transport.

These trends essentially reflect an industry which, in the South West as in the rest of the UK, is:

  • Restructuring away from craft-based production in small units towards batch production in a smaller number of larger ones (fewer craft workers and business unit managers but no great decrease in transport or process workers);
  • Increasing the technical input to products and processes (food scientists, technicians, and engineering crafts remaining important);
  • Increasing productivity overall (general tendency to fewer staff even as output is forecast to rise).

However, replacement demand is forecast to be a significant factor generating net positive recruitment demand even for occupational groups that are expected to decline in absolute numbers.

Skills Issues

There is demand for a range of skills associated in various patterns with different occupations. These have been identified as:

Management skills Strategy
Marketing and sales
HR management
High level supervisory skills (team management, product management, leadership)
Generic skills Teamworking
Taking responsibility
Problem solving
Adaptability and flexibility
Responsiveness to learning opportunities
Customer service skills
Personal attributes Positive attitudes and work ethic
Vocational skills Literacy
Food hygiene
H & S
Quality process awareness
Business awareness
Flexible skilling
Maintenance skills and multi-skilling
Manual skills and dexterity

Given that the clear agenda is to increase productivity, growth in the availability and quality of maintenance and engineering skills may be a particularly important requirement for the industry. As in other sectors, therefore, though demand for such skills cannot be easily quantified, it is clear that a sector which is increasingly technical in orientation, which is seeking efficiencies in vertical integration and larger production units, and which, because of global competition is increasingly required to be responsive to segmented and sophisticated markets, is also requiring a skills base which is more formalised and structured. As ‘relaxed’ ways of working are replaced by formal ones, all areas of operation from the shop floor upwards demand a wider, more clearly defined, and more frequently certificated skills base. The question is, of course, of whether and how this demand is to be met.

Skills Supply

As in other industries, skills supply information is limited and inferential. Some key points are:

  • existing employees have a qualification level lower than the national average (25% qualified to Level 3 or above compared to 32%nationally; 18% with no qualification compared to 13% nationally).
  • At graduate level it is suggested that outputs in engineering and food science are generally sufficient to meet needs, but whether or not the aggregate national labour market for high level staff serves needs in the South West is not known.

However, outputs at intermediate skill levels give greater cause for concern:

  • Numbers undertaking food science or technology qualifications at FE Level are very small and lower than the industry requires if its Technician – level skills base is to expand.
  • NVQs have had limited and patchy impact on the sector (,though recent promotional initiatives by Food and Drink NTOs may have brought improvement).
  • The majority of employers do not employ young people on programmes of structured training. Modern Apprenticeships are few in number and the successful completion rate is low.
  • Bakery, Meat and Dairy sub-sectors record decline in college-based provision and other difficulties.
  • Employers in the industry are thought to have given less importance to qualifications than other sectors with the exception of obligatory food safety qualifications. However, the situation is improving. For example, take up and implementation of Investors in People amongst large companies is higher than in any other manufacturing sector.
  • The qualifications framework for the industry is clearly established and major entry routes into the industry have been set out and marketed to young people (e.g. ‘A taste of your future, Careers in Food and Drink Manufacturing’ produced by the Food and Drink NTO).

Skills Mismatch

A range of analyses have indicated recruitment difficulties and skill shortages in the sector. The national Employer Skills Survey in 2000 found 9,500 national vacancies in the sector of which 60% were hard-to-fill.

In dairying, all occupations were found to be subject to recruitment difficulty (ranging from 11% for doorstep milk round staff). Seasonal variations, general national shortages for some occupations (engineers, HGV drivers), wage levels, unsocial hours, industry uncertainty, and general retention problems were implicated in these shortages, however, not necessarily ‘skill shortage’ as such. A large part of the industry’s training budget was given over to basic induction and health and safety training for new staff rather than to developing higher skill levels in existing staff.

A fifth of firms (21%) in the meat industry in the South West (industry survey 1999) reported substantial recruitment difficulties (national average, 16%).Key shortages were identified, in order of frequency as:

  • Skilled butchers
  • Trainees
  • Operatives
  • Supervisors
  • Technical staff
  • Retail staff
  • Managers

In bakery skilled bakers were hard-to-recruit (70% of employers reported difficulty in 1999/2000) and both supervisory and unskilled positions were hard-to-fill.

In the seafish sector a range of recruitment difficulties were reported including:

  • Managers in processing and merchanting
  • Trawler engineers in catching
  • Semi and unskilled processing operatives in processing
  • Fish handlers and counter staff in fish mongering
  • Fryers/cooks and counter sales in frying

Skills gaps in existing workforces were also widely recognised:

  • Only 20% of bakery employers and 24% of meat industry employers were satisfied with workforce skills
  • 37% of dairy sector employers and 14% of food and drink sector employers recognised skill gaps
  • A range of (unquantified) skills gaps were recognised in the seafish sector

These skills gaps have both sector wide and sub-sector components which can be perceived in the following sub-sector analysis:

Food and drink manufacture
• Job specific skills
• Initiative
• Communication skills
Bakery sub-sector
• Bakery craft skills
• Personal skills
• Communication skills
Seafish sub-sector
• Management
• IT
• Hygiene
• Health and Safety
• Waste management
• Communications
• Customer services
• Basic process skills (knife, filleting)
• On-board safety
• Net mending
• Satellite radio systems
Meat sub-sector
• Attitudes/personal skills (reliability, time-keeping)
• Basic skills
• Craft skills in butchery
• Hygiene
• Quality Assurance
Dairy sub-sector
• Management skills (HR and industrial relations)
• Basic skills
• Generic skills
• Sales skills
• Technical skills

Overall, therefore a review of skills in the food and drink industry suggests that skills supply is not matching skills demand:

  • A workforce with lower-than-average skills and qualifications levels.
  • Industry not attractive to young people.
  • Low pay, poor working conditions and seasonal variation.
  • Retention and replacement problems and the poor attitudes and behaviour of uncommitted staff.
  • Employers, particularly in smaller units in the industry, give low priority to training beyond statutory requirements (being discouraged in part by high labour turnover).
  • Endemic problems of recruitment difficulties and internal skills gaps.

These problems are not at a critical level (the industry finds ways of working round them and, perhaps critically, the supply of engineers and food technologists is adequate) but they present a drag on innovation and competitiveness.

The industry has recognised a range of issues on which action plans, at national and regional level, need to focus.

  • The boundary between the food and drink NTOs’ responsibilities and those of LANTRA given that the South West is very strong in primary production; and that, with many farmers and other primary producers seeking to diversify their operations, the boundary between primary production and later phases of the food chain is becoming increasingly blurred.
  • Significant problem with basic skills of literacy and numeracy at all occupational levels up to and including managers. This clearly inhibits efficiency and reduces the potential for vocational training. Basic skills programmes may therefore be a focus for attention.
  • Craft level skills. Numerically, craft occupations are in decline but they remain significant to the industry, especially in niche sub-sectors, and skill shortage is a recurrent and major difficulty for employers. Simultaneously, however, college-based craft provision has declined and there is a perception that focus may have been given to Level 3 qualifications at the expense of skill needs at Level 2. The industry may need to recommit itself to in-service training to bring more existing staff to Level 2 and to work for the restoration of craft skill courses in colleges.
  • Employers themselves need to be encouraged to use part-time college courses to train existing employees.
  • The industry needs to encourage more young people into entry level and craft training as a route into the industry.
  • The development of Modern Apprenticeship, which to date has been weak in the industry, also needs to be strengthened, particularly perhaps, to develop the maintenance and engineering skills which are increasingly critical to productivity growth.
  • Attitudes of workers, their personal skills and commitment are also of concern. Problems occur where work is unrewarding, low paid, has unsocial hours and poor conditions. In such circumstances, a procession of the least able and least motivated people circulates through the workplace. Recruiters seek only the bare minimum of capability, employers show no commitment to invest in development, and labour turnover becomes an expected and managed process. Breaking this cycle is difficult. Employers seeking to reduce costs to a minimum prefer the blend of costs-and-benefits associated with paying at or near the minimum wage to the blend which occurs at higher wage levels – obtaining higher quality, committed staff, lower turnover and recruitment costs, but a higher up-front wage bill. The cycle can only be broken by employers, not by the sequence of ill-educated, untrained, unwilling recruits who stream in and out of the workplace. Only two forces will help to make that break: first, commercial pressures flowing from consumers and supermarkets for quality-assured product (but price pressure from the same sources generates part of the problem in the first place) and from modes of production and processes which increasingly replace low skill/low commitment/low pay occupations with automated solutions; and, second, from external organisations – trade associations, NTOs, LSCs, sector groups – which assist companies, particularly SMEs, to shift from volume, low-added value approaches into higher quality, higher technology niches.
  • Generic skills. There is demand for people to operate in ‘smarter’ environments and different forms of work organisation. Such as: ability to lead and contribute to teams; use ICT; communicate well in writing or orally within the organisation or with customers. But it is not evident where or how these skills are to be developed in greater volumes than at present.
  • SME managers are often deficient in management skills, their career paths are not well defined, succession planning is often absent.
  • Information to aid continuous and responsive skills planning is deficient – lacking cohesion and precision. Skills action planning may, therefore, consider how information on which to base and then to monitor skills strategy may be improved in the South West region.

Demand for Skills in Food & Drink Manufacture/Processing
15% of the labour force is part time (compared to 9% across all manufacturing activities). Part time employment in this sector is growing faster than full time employment. Part time employment is most common in the baking and frozen food sub-sectors, reflecting the nature of the demand for these products, often made to order and subject to seasonal variations in output. Both these factors require a flexible workforce and explain the higher levels of part-time employment observed. Seasonal staffing is very common across the industry as a whole and 45% of sites employ some temporary staff during the year. 45% of the workforce in food and drink manufacture are female compared to 27% nationally. Female employment is particularly high in certain sub-sectors, particularly biscuits, cakes, chocolate and confectionery where women account for 52% of the workforce.

The majority of training given to employees is in-house. Only 12% of sites employ young people on training schemes such as Modern Apprenticeships or National Traineeships. The main barrier to formalised training tends to be cost which disproportionately affects smaller employers. This is particularly important in the food and drink industry, as all firms have to provide training to comply with food safety regulations.

Supply of Skills in Food & Drink Manufacture/Processing
Skills shortages are an issue - the Food and Drink NTO found that more than a quarter of firms seeking to fill vacancies experienced difficulties in recruiting people, largely due to a lack of skills and qualifications among the applicants, and 14% of sites identifed a skills gap of some kind. Most commonly these gaps relate to job specific skills but also skills such as communications skills and the ability to show initiative. Skills gaps generally relate to production staff (operatives) which account for 56% of all employment in the sector. Nationally, skills gaps are acute in bakery and soft drinks and less of an issue in frozen foods.

In the future, personal skills will become more important with a growing requirement for employees skilled in customer service, teamworking and information technology. The demand for flexible staff is also expected to continue. Most employees in the food and drink manufacturing industry in the South West are concentrated in relatively low skilled, operative type jobs. Reflecting this, the main occupational categories in the industry are:

  • industrial plant and machinery operatives
  • managers and administrators
  • drivers and mobile machine operators.

The industry is characterised by high levels of seasonal working and student workers often meet this demand.
The IER research identified the main recruitment problems in the South West to be in craft, technical and management positions e.g. maintenance engineers, technologists, production managers. The shortage of these skills in the region is compounded by fewer numbers of young people entering the industry. The research also found that skills shortages were more acute in the north of the region (notably Bristol and Swindon) where the demand for low skill operatives is particularly high. The Food and Drink NTO found that the South West was the third most likely region in Great Britain (behind West Midlands and London) to experience difficulties in filling vacancies in the sector. Sites in the South West appear to be increasing in size and evidence in the report suggests large food and drink manufacturing companies in the South West may not have access to a sufficient pool of labour with the required skills.

Small firms in the region have been slow to adopt new technologies in their production processes but for those that have there has been a reduction in the numbers of staff required as processes are more automated. At the same time, increasing diversification has required machinery operatives to become multi-skilled to cope with different machines and processes. In the future, this type of flexible, multi-skilled employee will be more in demand.

Training Provision

Small firms in the region receive generic training as bespoke courses are too expensive. As a result much of the training received is therefore the same type of training as found in other sectors e.g. health and safety, time management, administration skills etc. Thus the focus of RDA attention should be in ensuring firms receive the bespoke training that they require and ensure it is accessible to the region’s SMEs, both in terms of cost and location (as many firms find it difficult to leave their place of work to attend training).

As the food and drink sector covers a diverse of activities skills information is fragmented. In identifying skills issues information has been gathered from the various National Training Organisations that are responsible for different parts of the sector:

  • Lantra
  • Dairy Training and Development Council
  • Food and Drink NTO
  • Meat Training Council
  • Bakery NTO

skills needed

Some of the qualities you need are:

  • Be fit and strong – heavy lifting may be required and you may be stood up all day
  • Flexible working – weekends, unsocial hours, shift work.
  • Flexible about the sort of work you are asked to do
  • Be able to work as part of team
  • Get on with different types of people
  • Be able to work under pressure
  • Work on your own
  • Take responsibility
  • Work with machinery
  • Be careful and responsible

If you decide to work with the public in some way, for example in sales, or you want to go into supervisory management, sales, marketing, etc you should also enjoy meeting people and be able to communicate well. More jobs these days require you to use new technology, from computers to mobile ‘phones.

If you want to run your own business you will need all the qualities above especially working under pressure! But you will also need experience of:

  • Marketing / promotions
  • Financial management
  • Customer service
  • Staff recruitment, selection and management, and employment law
  • Organisational skills
  • Handling difficult situations and people

Many of skills can be gained through short courses at your local college or the industry training bodies mentioned below. Trade associations can also advise on some of these issues.

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