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Food and Drink

Christine Tacon

Since 2016 Christine has been Chair of MDS Ltd a graduate recruitment and training scheme for the food and fresh produce industry. It is a not-for-profit business that started 34 years ago. The scheme has expanded and now has 60 trainees with degrees from food business management to archaeology and languages, with 15 recruited every 6 months. In addition, Christine was the first Groceries Code Adjudicator, a role which she finishes this year after 7 years.

One business success

  • We have seen a massive increase in high-quality applications from undergraduates of all disciplines. The food sector is now being recognised as a good sector to work in to ensure employment and other industries are cutting back on recruitment due to COVID/Brexit uncertainty. MDS has got its message out much further through virtual career events, webinars and an improved social media presence.

Two challenges for the sector

  • The big increase in applications means we could expand MDS but to do this we need more members. Every 6 months we need to find roles for the trainees in the membership but if we are short of roles, then we cut back on recruitment.  When we ask our applicants to wait 6 months,  we lose some of them. The October and April intakes are now full and we are offering roles for October 2021 start dates. I would be delighted to hear from businesses of any size wanting to join us then we can accept more of these exceptional candidates!
  • Trainees finishing the MDS programme are finding it hard to secure new jobs in the current environment. The food sector needs to ensure it is investing in its future leaders. MDS is helping these trainees by promoting the fact they are available and some of them are doing an extra secondment in their member business. Fingers crossed we won’t break our record of every trainee having a role when they leave.

Three forecasts for the sector

  • Brexit and the increased number of modern facilities wanting UK-trained management have already enticed many Eastern Europeans back home. There will be a renewed interest in nurturing home-grown future leaders who will hopefully spend their careers in our industry.
  • The acknowledgement of the food and fresh produce industry as a key service, and recognition that it can ride significant turbulence or a recession, means there will be a greater interest in it as a career. We are in a strong position to attract, for example, engineers interested in automation to assist with fruit picking and packing lines.
  • Much more training will be done online which costs less to deliver, saves on travel and has proven to be just as effective in many topics.

September 2020