The shortage of scientists and technologists within food and drink manufacturing is set to worsen unless urgent measures are taken to attract more young people into these roles, according to research commissioned by Improve, the food and drink sector skills council.

Two projects were carried out in Wales and Yorkshire to investigate the shortage of food scientists and technologists after previous research showed that one in four vacancies remains unfilled.

Jack Matthews, chief executive of Improve said: “The latest research makes it clear that very few young people are choosing food science and technology courses straight from school. This means that when it comes to filling food scientist vacancies, there is a shortage of freshly qualified graduates who are looking for jobs.”

Some 278 people are currently studying for relevant qualifications in Yorkshire and the vast majority of these are mature, part-time students who are already employed.

The same research found that just 20 per cent of employers questioned recruited new food scientists or technologists straight from university, yet employers reported that 45 per cent of vacancies that arose in the past 12 months were difficult to fill.

In Wales the research found only two accredited providers of Food Science Technology courses at undergraduate and graduate level because of the low demand.

Higher and further education institutions both report a drop in the number of enrolments in recent years, and competition for places is reported as being low or non-existent. In Yorkshire, a number of learning providers are struggling to keep courses financially viable because of low student numbers.

Matthews added: “Technological advancements and increased demand for new product innovation mean the number of food scientist and technologist roles is set to rise. Unless we get more young people choosing to work in these careers, by 2014 there will be a shortfall of 13,000 such roles.

“Employers need to engage with young people at all stages of education to get them excited about choosing a career in food and drink. Becoming involved in Improve’s Schools Challenge or the Young Apprenticeship programme will help engage school pupils. Offering work placements and giving talks to students who are already on a relevant course will encourage them to pursue a career in the sector once their studies are complete. Providing case studies to local schools and careers services is a simple but effective way to be proactive - these help draw attention to the career opportunities and great earning potential that food scientists and technologists have.”

Improve said it is in the process of working with employers to formulate Sector Skills Agreements. These will be achievable plans for individual companies to help boost skills at all levels, with many plans incorporating actions to attract more young recruits to the sector.