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Food and Drink

Val Braybrooks

Val is Dean at the University of Lincoln’s Holbeach Campus, home to the NCFM, a national centre for skills development and applied research for the UK’s food manufacturing industry. A major provider of apprenticeships and short courses the NCFM is also renowned for its applied research, being a national leader in food chain automation and with specialists in all types of food technology it is a focal point for food manufacturers and technology providers, both in the UK and abroad. The NCFM is known for its employer collaboration, partnering with many of the UK’s leading food businesses over the years including Bakkavor and the majority of local businesses along with those further afield, Coca-Cola, Nestle, Sainsbury’s and Heineken by example.   

One business success

  • The University is expanding its services with investment in a research and innovation centre on the newly developed Food Enterprise Zone (FEZ) at Holbeach. The start of construction was a highlight, as the project has had some challenges. A partnership between the Greater Lincolnshire Local Enterprise Partnership, South Holland District Council and the University, the FEZ will be a key sector hub to deliver an ambitious growth agenda for the agri-food industry. As the anchor tenant, the opening of the Centre of Excellence in 2021, will be a key milestone for the University. The challenges that the FEZ seeks to address are growing and this investment is crucial to ensure that the region stays at the forefront of industry growth.  

Two challenges for the sector

  • The sector has made progress in addressing higher-level skills needs with degree apprenticeships and other initiatives but a risk to momentum exists as businesses respond to the challenges of the day. Apprenticeships programmes have been significantly disrupted and we have rapidly created alternative learning models including moving study blocks, where students develop skills in the laboratories and food factory to online delivery which has required significant creativity. More of our teaching will now be on-line and we will respond as new technologies are introduced at pace and commercial astuteness, resilience and creativity become increasingly important attributes alongside technical and scientific skills needed by students.
  • Changing priorities for innovation makes it difficult to know where to focus expertise and resources. Automation and robotics are a certainty and the rising costs of logistics will drive innovation in storage, shelf-life and supply chain efficiencies.     

Three forecasts for the sector 

  • The sector will take advantage of the current climate to address its skills shortages. Much of the sector remains in growth and ability to offer high productivity jobs to attract new talent whilst competition from other sectors is reduced. Positive media coverage has brought the industry to the attention of a wider audience. If used effectively this will aid recruitment whilst uncertainties over full-time university study will increase the pool of well-qualified young people and ‘home-grown’ talent seeking degree apprenticeships opportunities within the sector.
  • Businesses will increasingly invest in building relationships with local schools, universities and communities as a key recruitment strategy. The University sponsors five academies in South Lincolnshire educating over 2000 young people and the food industry is promoted with support from local employers.
  • Businesses will gain flexibility from Government in how they use their apprenticeship levy which will loosen the constraints and allow a more dynamic skills system to evolve.   

September 2020