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From cloud architects and big data scientists to TikTok marketers, some of today’s most in-demand jobs simply didn’t exist when most of us were at school

The array of challenges currently facing the fmcg industry is far beyond anything we could have once imagined. We know it’s a fast-paced sector, but change is more rapid than ever. Having covered inflation, the cost of living crisis and HFSS legislation coming into effect over my last few columns – to name a few weighty issues – staff shortages and ongoing reports of skills gaps also continue.

In light of this, and with so much going on outside of our control, it seems the perfect time to step back, take stock and consider what real action we can be taking to combat challenges in this area. I am extremely passionate about ensuring business leaders work to create opportunities for the next generation, and from a personal perspective working at IRI, I have a strong interest in how we can champion tech-based skills to transform the industry for the future.

According to research by the Learning & Work Institute, in partnership with Enginuity and WorldSkills UK, young people know digital skills will be important for their future careers, but many are unsure they have the more complex skills a workplace might demand of them. When it comes to coding or using specialist software, only 18% of young people said they thought they had these more advanced skills. From AI and machine learning, AR and VR to data science and business intelligence, there is a wealth of skills the fmcg industry can benefit from when it comes to training and developing the next generation of talent. Many of us are guilty of being more tech-savvy at home than we are at work, but it’s imperative fmcg doesn’t get left behind in this regard when technology is such a key business enabler.

If we think back over the last decade, there are an array of tech roles that have been newly created. We don’t have to think too hard to list some of the most in-demand jobs – from cloud architects and big data scientists to TikTok marketers – that simply didn’t exist when most of us were at school. Our industry has historically always attracted the best UK and international talent, and we must work hard to ensure it continues to be an attractive destination where the next generation want to come and work.

In early 2021, the government outlined plans to make gaining essential digital skills in adulthood easier, and expressed plans to continue developing a more blended model for education to make digital and remote learning more viable. A promising step, but what more can businesses be doing to upskill future talent and existing colleagues?

A look at what already exists is a great start. In 2019, M&S launched its internal BEAM Academy to help develop, attract and retain the data talent needed for its digital transformation. Last year the retailer took this a step further, setting up an industry-first course for data scientists. It can be difficult to think ahead during challenging times, but we all have an opportunity to shape the future of our industry – whether that be through individual company initiatives or valuable partnerships.

At IRI, we are proud to have partnered with Co-op to create the Spark project, where together we coach, inspire and motivate a new, more diverse generation of young people to enter the industry. We offer students a taste of what a career in big data and technology might be like, while also introducing them to influential people in the industry to help grow their professional networks. By pooling our resources and knowledge with Co-op, we can make a bigger difference in arming young talent with the skills they need for a career in the future of fmcg.

Of course, though, it’s not just about upskilling young people. The next generation presents us with a wealth of opportunity, but businesses also need to support the people working today. This is where apprenticeships can shine, with anyone of any age able to take advantage and learn a new skill within their current or a new organisation. On-the-job training is vital in an inclusive approach to learning, and in fact, government data has shown a 400% increase in starts in higher-level apprenticeships since 2014/15 – a significant proportion of which are taken up by older people. At IRI, we’re committed to providing in-role development, and use support tools such as MentorLoop to ensure we’re connecting the right people internally to make a positive difference.

Whatever career stage you’re at, learning and development feels more important than ever given the challenging times we are currently facing – within the industry and externally in the world around us. Young people will no doubt feel the pressure to find a solid career to combat the increasing cost of living we’re experiencing. It can be overwhelming starting out, or making a move to progress at any age, but companies who are future-proofing their operations by offering support and development programmes will be more likely to attract and retain top talent.

Technology isn’t the only area where we can upskill an existing workforce and the next generation, but it’s prevalence and importance will only continue to grow. We must act now to avoid getting left behind.