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Did you know that the Food and Drink Industry is one of the largest industries within Wales, and directly employs over 170,000 people? With an estimated value of £17.3 billion for the Welsh economy every year, and playing one of the biggest roles in putting Wales ‘on the map’, it’s an industry with a big story to tell. Why then are the next generation choosing not to join the foodie revolution?

It’s not just food a-plenty in the Welsh Food and Drink Industry, as opportunity awaits those willing to tuck in and enjoy a career in one of the most versatile, fast paced and innovative industries within Wales. From retail to hospitality, growing to manufacturing, the breadth of job roles and opportunities within the industry knows no bounds. Over the past few years the higher education system in Wales has been able to offer an increasing number of degree courses at Welsh Universities that are aligned to the sector. Students have had the opportunity to study courses in significant topics such as Food Science, Nutrition and Food Production Management to allow for an increased skillset moving into the industry. The Food and Drink Industry remains a priority sector for the Welsh Government, as well as a local priority for Pembrokeshire College. Recently, Pembrokeshire College has become one of the first further education establishments in Wales to address skills gaps within the food production sector, and has also taken steps to raise the profile of careers within the Food and Drink industry to local schools and the next generation.

Pembrokeshire College is currently developing the new City & Guilds Level 3 Diploma in Food and Drink Engineering Maintenance Apprenticeship. The new framework was created in consultation with some of the UK’s biggest food and drink manufacturers including Dairy Crest and Unilever. This STEM based technical apprenticeship offers a multi-skilled pathway which includes; electrical, welding, automation, process control and mechanical topics. To ensure that the development of this  overarching qualification is fit for purpose, the College is working closely with a local industry panel that features some of the biggest food and drink manufactures in Wales; Puffin Produce, Capestone Organic and First Milk.

Jane Sadler, HR Manager at Puffin Produce commented: “We’re delighted to be involved in shaping the new qualification in Food and Drink Engineering in conjunction with Pembrokeshire College. It is really important for the Food Industry as a whole that we continue to employ skilled and enthusiastic team members, and it is only through talking to the next generation and helping them understand the vast amount of opportunities available in the Food and Drink Industry that the industry will continue to thrive.”

For Pembrokeshire College work-based learning is just the start, as the college looks towards utilising its engineering expertise in a classroom setting as well. Raising the profile of the Food and Drink Industry as a career path amongst future Engineers, Food Technicians, Food Marketers and Development Chefs is also a key target for the college. According to the Skills Academy for Food and Drink, there are many young people uninterested in looking at the sector due to a negative perception of the low-grade work available. This perception, however, is not representative of the industry as a whole. The industry is shouting out for bright, young people who have a passion for food and drink and are looking to take their qualifications in GCSE Food Technology (or similar) into a career. The new WJEC Food Science/Nutrition qualification being developed by Pembrokeshire College will allow these bright young people to do just that. The qualification, which has been developed by Pembrokeshire College working alongside sector professionals such as Dr Elizabeth Lewis from Nutrasteward, will be available to study at level 3 from September 2019.

With Brexit in view, we all need to champion the sector. If we want to enjoy quality Welsh produce and products, then we need to promote the sector to young people as an innovative industry that offers professional and sustainable careers…and free hair nets! With a growing movement amongst consumers to buy locally, and with traceability a key factor in the supply of food throughout the UK, we all need to champion our Welsh Food and Drink Industry. If we want to continue to enjoy quality Welsh produce and products for generations to come then we need to promote the career opportunities available within the industry, as well as harness and develop the skillset of our young people to continue to innovate and grow the sector.