Over thirty food industry organizations attended the Fresh Careers Fair today in a bid to reach out to new prospects, young and old, amid a general labour shortage in the industry.
Hundreds of students, industry figures and schoolchildren gathered at the scenic surroundings of London's Oval Cricket Ground, home to some of England’s most famous Ashes victories.
With English cricket selectors facing a tricky task rebuilding the national team after their 4 – 0 capitulation to Australia in the summer, the venue seemed appropriate in light of the food sector’s problems filling vacancies across the supply chain.
Seasonal worker shortages post-Brexit have attracted the attention of the national press, as horticulture in particular struggles to fill picking and production roles, but less public is their hunger for management and more technical positions too.
“There's not a child in Britain when they are asked aged seven what they hope to be who says ‘work in fresh produce’,” said Jim Prevor, CEO of Phoenix Media Network and founder of the Fresh Careers Fair.
He continued: “Children go into the other fields, they become doctors or engineers, to progress the industry needs to be able to attract people outside the traditional channels.”
Anna Williams, development manager at fresh produce recruitment firm MDS, says the industry “has an image problem”.
She says: “I think it’s an awareness thing. People just don’t know where the food comes from and how many people are involved in that. People think it’s about supermarkets and farmers. We have to sing our own praises."
Nic Walton, senior technical manager at BerryWorld, said: “I really struggle to find good people for the business. We really want commercial agronomists, who can have a conversation with growers, who can affect them and help increase yield, with good customer understanding, not just science and bugs.”
Several organizations were offering paid internships in a bid to promote understanding of the sector, with the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers offering two weeks at G’s Fresh and Berry Gardens. Attendees were also given a chance to go before Foodservice “dragons” to make a pitch and receive career advice.
A successful example of the fair’s matchmaking was Tim Whincup, who linked up with his current employers, the Kent supplier Richard Hochfeld, at the event last year. “I got into the industry living rurally, I had friends and family friends with farms, but I wanted to understand the business behind it. People don’t realize it’s there, or understand the products. More education in that sense would be beneficial.”
One student at Writtle University College, Hugh Leach, echoed Whincup’s comments: “At our uni we ran a poll at a few schools and the awareness of horticulture was incredibly low. People see it as going out into the mud, but there’s a whole other side to it people don't know about which is why we’re struggling.”