January 18, 2020

What’s the solution to the talent shortage issue within the food industry?

Group of candidates waiting to be interviewedLukas Vanterpool of The Sterling Choice looks for an answer.

The UK food manufacturing industry turns over £80bn a year and is the largest manufacturing sector in the country. On average employees earn around five per cent more compared to the national UK average. So, why is an industry which has so much going for it, currently in so much recruitment turmoil?

By 2017, the industry will need 137,000 new recruits and for a sector which is currently experiencing a massive talent gap – this number seems ever more unattainable as the days go past.

An EEF report found that manufacturing vacancies were considered ‘hard to fill’, with 35 per cent of respondents citing this as a major issue. With many laying the blame at a lack of technical skills, relevant experience or qualifications and most worryingly; an insufficient number of applicants.

As the pace of the industry increases and the number of applicants declines, talented employees are becoming an increasingly valuable commodity.

So, how do you solve a problem like the FMCG sector?

The focus needs to be on staff progression

If prospective employees can’t see you putting any effort into developing your current talent, then why would they want to work for you? Young, fresh talent is often eager to learn and keen to work their way up; and it’s the industry which is putting stumbling blocks in their path.

Staff retention and progression should be on the manufacturing agenda. Without the right employees, a business is worth nothing. And while other industries seem to have grasped this; the manufacturing industry lags behind.

FMCG companies need to work on creating a company where a culture of happiness and progression are at its core. Implement these key ingredients and you have a recipe for success, which will soon attract talent to work for you over your competitors.

Graduate or experienced talent?

There’s an argument for hiring on both sides of the experience spectrum. On the one hand, graduates are keen to learn and but often lack practical experience. Compared to experienced talent, who have a wealth of knowledge behind them but are perhaps worn down by years of little progression.

FMCG companies need to strike a balance between an injection of fresh talent and energy into the business through graduate hires, and the knowledge an experienced professional can bring to the business.

Old school culture VS Millennial expectations

The ‘old boys club’ culture is very much ingrained into FMCG companies, where a draconian management structure out rules millennial desires. But, with a sector in need of talent, outdated business practices need to be replaced with ones which appeal to the younger generation.

Finding a ‘lifer’ in the FMCG sector is virtually impossible. After two to four years employees move on, bored with the rigmarole they face day to day, ready to undertake a new challenge. Only to find that the next place is just the same. If the cycle is going to change, then one company needs to be bold and make the first move to changing outdated habits.

Millennials are no longer interested in traditional working ideologies. The world has changed, family dynamics have changed and the workplace has changed too. The sooner manufactures realise this, the sooner the talent will be through the door.

Spend money internally, not externally

External branding is everything, but unless you’re practicing what you preach on the outside your overall brand image can become transparent very quickly. A focus on internal infrastructure and practices can help talent to feel safe in the knowledge that you’ll do right by them.

Focusing your efforts on identifying what you’re currently offering and locate areas for improvement. It may be a case of trial and error at first, but once you’ve found a strategy that works, run with it.

Solid business foundations are essential throughout any period of business, but no more so than when you’re recruiting. If as a company you’re projecting an image of security and solidarity for employees, then you’re far more likely to secure new talent.

It’s no longer a case of whether companies will change to attract talent, it’s a case of when.


Lukas Vanterpool started The Sterling Choice in 2013. Collectively the team has over 50 years of experience in placing professionals in the FMCG, food and engineering sectors. They work with both SMEs and global organisations in the UK and internationally.