Technical & Quality Talent Crisis: Overcoming Challenges in the UK Food Manufacturing Industry

By Gill Dando – Principal Consultant

The UK’s food manufacturing industry, a vital contributor to the nation’s economy, faces a significant challenge in recruiting and retaining skilled technical professionals. In this article we explore the pressing issues, root causes, and initiatives aimed at securing a prosperous future for the industry.

Technical roles in food manufacturing, covering crucial aspects such as food safety, compliance and innovation, face multifaceted challenges. Despite significant investments in research and technology integration exceeding £1.2 billion, several obstacles hinder the development of a robust technical job pipeline. Something we see reflected in our own business with no significant drop in recalls and incidents and recurring issues happening time after time. Here are some ideas as to why this might be:

  • Skills Gap: A persistent disparity exists between employer needs and graduate qualifications, emphasising the need for more targeted educational approaches. Do school and college leavers think a food factory is a great place to work?
  • Perceptions of the Industry: Misconceptions about the sector’s tech sophistication and perceived low rewards/ bad working conditions and hours deter potential talents, necessitating a rebranding effort to showcase the industry’s dynamic nature.
  • Ageing Workforce: The imminent retirement of experienced professionals without adequate replacements threatens industry stability, emphasising the need for succession planning and knowledge transfer.
  • Industry Transformation: Rapid technological integration necessitates comprehensive reskilling, placing additional pressure on companies to invest in training and development programs. Funding which typically doesn’t exist therefore gets piled onto someone else’s ‘to do’ list and causes unease and over-burdens already busy teams.
  • Brexit Impact: Concerns about access to skilled overseas workers limit the talent pool, urging the industry to explore alternative solutions such as domestic upskilling initiatives. Apprentice schemes and other institutional lead systems are in place but not always accessible.

The ‘Unsexy’ Reality:

Working in food technical roles is not always perceived as glamorous due to its demanding nature, anti-social working hours and environments, tough stakeholder management and entry-level wages. This highlights the need for a cultural shift and recognition of the importance of these roles.

Despite challenges, collaborative efforts between the industry, retail, and academia are underway to address the technical job pipeline crisis comprehensively.

Some of the ideas listed below:

  • Education Partnerships: Industry players collaborate with educational institutions, shaping curricula, apprenticeships and work placements to attract and nurture young talent.
  • Upskilling Programs: Forward-thinking companies invest in training to adapt the current workforce to evolving technologies, fostering agility and innovation across the sector. As the adage goes “What if we train them and they leave? But what if we don’t train them and they stay?”
  • Promoting Careers: Initiatives are in place to dispel misconceptions about the industry and highlight its dynamic and technical aspects, focusing on attracting a diverse range of talents.
  • Digital Evolution: The UK food manufacturing industry is embracing cutting-edge technologies like automation, artificial intelligence and data-driven processes. These innovations enhance production efficiency, improve product quality and enable smarter decision-making. While this tech-driven evolution is exciting, there are concerns about potential job displacement, making it a topic of ongoing debate within the industry.


In navigating the current challenges, the UK food manufacturing industry must innovate and invest in its workforce. Embracing technology and addressing labour market instabilities are crucial for sustaining global leadership and ensuring prosperity for future generations. As the industry undergoes a transformative journey, prioritising technical talent development will undoubtedly shape its resilience and adaptability in the years to come.

All of this will take time to filter through into the food industry and so in the meantime it is worth considering finding skilled resources externally to plug gaps and access a variety of skill-sets and specialisms from the consultancy market. Much like a marketing team uses agencies to broaden their capabilities, a consultancy firm such as RQA Group can give you access to a wide network of food safety professionals and be an extension to your food safety and quality team.

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