Bramcote School in Nottingham looks much like any other school in the country. Some of the kids are milling around the corridors, some are shut away in classrooms, and a handful are smoking cigarettes outside the school gates.
Yet today an experiment is going on, a pilot project launched by IGD to attract more young minds to the food and drink industry. It’s the latest initiative of Feeding Britain’s Future (FBF), which is primarily focused on getting unemployed 16 to 24-year-olds into jobs in the industry. However, as well as carrying on its existing work, this year IGD is drilling deeper into the talent pool and introducing the industry to 13 to 17-year-olds inside schools.
“It’s a new venture, a new departure,” says IGD CEO Joanne Denney-Finch of the Nottingham pilot project as we sit in reception, talking quietly so as not to disturb the GCSE maths exam going on behind the doors to our left. “Why not start before they become unemployed and offer them some real life opportunities with real life employees? Because if you don’t know the rules of the game, how can you play?”
The pilot has two clear aims. First, to bring real people from the industry into schools to interact with the kids. Secondly, to help them realise the skills they learn in school can be transferred to the work arena - for instance, to help the captain of the sports team realise that leadership, team building, motivation and organisational skills should go on his or her CV.
The ultimate goal is to bring the food and drink industry to life and get rid of the perception that the industry is limited to shelf-stacking in a supermarket , a recurring theme from IGD sessions with jobseekers.
of students feel more confident about their ability to get a job having completed the session
of students feel their employability skills have been improved
might have considered fmcg as a career before the session
might consider it after
of teachers believed pupils’ employability skills were developed in the sessions
feel their pupils are more likely to consider a career in fmcg afterwards
And the reason we are starting off in Nottingham is because although Denney-Finch says unemployment in the area is coming down, it is still “higher than the average,” which makes it a “good place to go. It’s a hotspot.” The sessions will be “very interactive, not talk and talk,” she adds. “I hope they have fun and that we bring the industry to life in a way it deserves, because it’s fast, pacey and dynamic.”
Joining us, and tasked with adding the all-important colour to the various roles on offer in the industry, are representatives from Asda , Booker , Mondelez, Britvic and Morrisons .
“For me it’s all about getting down into the education system and getting them out the other side equipped with the life skills required to make eye contact and have a conversation,” says Morrisons head of employability and education Paul Dowd. “To give them an idea of how they come across, are they resilient, do they have the right attitude, and are they ready to be employable? And to make sure they know it isn’t just about shelf stacking.”
It’s also a different challenge to the existing FBF project, says Lynne McGrath from Booker. “We have been in on the 16-24 skills week since FBF started, but this is different. It will be interesting to see the feedback, and how they compare, because when you are helping to prepare CVs or doing mock interviews, you know you have left someone with something tangible. This is softer stuff.”
That’s probably as it should be. And it goes down well. There is never-ending movement, chatter between the kids and industry representatives, sprinkles of giggles and engagement from both sides. Louise Bateman, Bramcote’s deputy leader for Key Stage Three, says the kids were all “really enjoying the interaction. You could see them thinking about it. No one was looking at the clock.”
As for the kids themselves, Ryan Kay, 14, says it got him thinking about transferable skills, like using his talent for languages in a buying or sales role to help negotiations go smoothly. “If you are dealing with people in other countries then you obviously need to be able to talk to them and if you can speak their language you can make them more comfortable,” he says. “And today, so much of our food comes from abroad. I wouldn’t have considered that before today.”
Anna Radmore, also 14, agrees, saying the focus on transferable skills gave her pause for thought. “Today we study for subjects that we won’t even look at in two years, which can be hard, but getting used to that now, and learning that such perseverance will be useful in the working environment after hearing people talk about it today, was so helpful.”
She adds that “before today I would have thought food and drink meant shop assistant, checkout girl, shop manager. Now I think nutritionist, manufacturing, health … I had never ever thought that head of diversity would be someone’s job in the food and drink industry. I will definitely have a more open mind now. I really enjoyed today and learned so much I didn’t know before. They should roll it out across other schools, although maybe before we choose our options, so we have that option of changing our choices to suit this industry more.”
Before the day is out Denney-Finch sneaks a peek at the feedback forms. “One guy wrote it was good to meet people rather than just read about them, and that is one of the things we wanted to achieve, to bring it to life,” she says.
This was the eighth of 20 sessions across schools in the area, and the process is still being tweaked, but the early feedback from all eight has been encouraging and will be digested properly once the pilot is completed. Denney-Finch is feeling positive, though, and already looking ahead to next year.
“We have to think big,” she says. “If we get good feedback then let’s see how many companies we can get involved and see how many schools we can expand to. There is definitely an opportunity for scale. And a definite opportunity for the industry to participate.”