Training in the SME Sector of the Food and Drink Manufacturing Industries

By Davies, John; Ryan, Mike | Management Services, Spring 2005 | Go to article overview

Training in the SME Sector of the Food and Drink Manufacturing Industries


Davies, John, Ryan, Mike, Management Services


Training may be defined as the transfer of skills and knowledge from those who have them to those who do not; an alternative definition can be the bringing about of a significant improvement in performance as a result of instruction, practice and experience.

Training is a specialised function and employees should learn the specified operating procedure for a job and not just another worker's version. The benefits to be gained by both employees and their employers from a properly designed training and development programme are difficult to overestimate. There is a great advantage to the employer to have skills available and to make effective use of trained staff.

Management Services have always been involved in training and ensuring that employees with the appropriate skills fill the given tasks. The training of new entrants and the retraining of existing employees may commence once the method has been defined and specified.

Growing industries, shrinking workforce

The food and drinks manufacturing industries are important as an employer and contributor to wealth in all parts of the UK. The sector contributes some £20 billion to annual gross domestic product and this value has been growing steadily over recent years. An estimated 900,000 people are employed in 45,000 business units.

However, the overall employment trend in the industries has been downward for at least 30 years and this is expected to continue across all occupational groups. In spite of the reductions in the workforce, recruiting and replacing staff is a very important issue.

Employers claim that skills shortages lead to increasing operation costs, difficulties in meeting customers' needs, and problems introducing new working practices that would increase profits. A recent Employer Skills Survey reported that some 60 per cent of vacancies in the industry were hard to fill. In part, this is because of low wages and unattractive working conditions. Skill shortages and gaps such as communication and team working, can often be more damaging in smaller businesses because they have a proportionally greater impact. They also need more help in identifying and planning to meet learning needs. Shortages of skilled employees may militate against the survival and development of both small businesses and modern niche suppliers.

The reasons given for skills gaps include the introduction of new working practices and technology, but also simple failures to train and develop the workforce. In addition, high levels of staff turnover exacerbate the problems.

Qualification levels are low throughout the industry. The reasons for this are an industry failure to train, lack of interest by employees, concerns over the relevance of qualifications, lack of public funding of lower level qualifications for adults, and the diverse need for academic, vocational and basic skills qualifications. The main barriers to training are time-release factors and financial resources. It is interesting to review the impact on attitudes that prioritising funding for adults at achieving a level 2 qualification has.1

National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs)

In many smaller companies across all industries, training is a hit and miss affair. It has been difficult for employees without formal qualifications to demonstrate their skills and it has been hard for employers to know the best way to train staff. The multiple roles required of managers and, in many cases, owner managers, mean that very few have a specific perception for training. However, NVQs are now established in a range of sectors including business administration, engineering, hairdressing, retailing, and the food and drinks industries.

All NVQs within a sector are based on the same occupational standards. Several different awarding bodies can offer the qualification and often suggest different routes for learning and assessment. Standards are set by the sector Skills Councils (formally National Training Organisations) in each industry, in association with employers and training organisations. …

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