The event was staged after the three sector skills councils, Lantra, Improve Limited and Skillsmart Retail, all reported "worrying" skills gaps impacting upon the UK’s ability to feed itself. As a result they have formed The Food Supply Network.
Lantra chief executive Peter Martin said: "The contribution of our three sectors to the UK’s economy and food supply is much greater than often recognised.
"If our workforce is not trained and able to meet the challenges of climate change, an expanding population and decreasing resources, as well as the pace of technological change, then this will cause real problems in the future."
Food manufacturing is the largest element of UK manufacturing at 15% Gross Value Added (GVA). The total GVA for the UK food and drink manufacturing industry is £22.6 billion, and the industry’s GVA has shown a growth of 14 per cent since 1998.
The industries of the Food Supply Network are worth £79.5 billion (GVA) annually to the UK economy and employ 3.6 million people across the food production, manufacturing and retail sectors, which is one in seven of the entire workforce.
The event attracted speakers including Defra minister Jim Paice, Sainsbury chief executive Justin King, Warburtons executive director and Dood and drink Federation president Ross Warburton MBE, Fylde Fresh and Fabulous president David Linton and farmer Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones.
Lantra, the land-based industries sector skills council, says 43% of all vacancies in its sector are hard to fill, with twice the national average of skills shortage vacancies.
Improve Limited - the sector skills council for food and drink manufacturing and processing (FDMP) - reports the need for 137,000 new recruits 2007 - 2017, with demand particularly high amongst managers and senior officials, and professional occupations. Improve has identified worrying skills gaps especially at managerial level including leadership and strategic management, operational people management and IT skills.
For Skillsmart Retail - the sector skills council for retailing - a key issue is expansion of the sector as 214,000 retail jobs are expected to be created over the next few years.
Martin added: "We would like MPs, ministers and civil servants to understand how important skills in the sector are. Food security can only be guaranteed if those working in the food supply industries have the right skills."
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