Last November, chancellor George Osborne and business secretary Vince Cable announced a review of what each part of the government is doing to improve conditions for private-sector growth.
The first phase of this is the Advanced Manufacturing review, which has highlighted the food and drink industry as a priority. The review will focus on the barriers that stand in the way of sectors reaching their full potential and will form the foundations for establishing an ongoing dialogue between government and business.
Lack of innovation and knowledge transfer, take-up of new technologies, export difficulties and access to finance for SMEs are barriers that have already been identified. An area close to my heart that I am keen for government and our industry to take a lead on is access to skills and training.
The fast-moving nature of manufacturing, and the varied skills required, can make it difficult to identify suitable training. The skills shortage in science, engineering and technology (SET) could partly be addressed by retaining skilled workers within the industry and tackling the gender imbalance. In 2008, there were about half a million women of working age living in the UK qualified in SET, but only 185,000 of them were working in the sector. We need to take a fresh look at our approach to skills and training in order to fill the missing links.
At our York site, we have invested more than £200m over the past 20 years to create an operation that employs skilled technicians and engineers to run state-of-the-art manufacturing equipment. However, we had to source most of the equipment from outside the UK as well as many of the skills needed to install and maintain it. We need to improve links between universities, science and technology businesses and manufacturing in order to produce the equipment we require.
Government and industry also have a role in promoting career opportunities. According to the Engineering UK 2009/10 annual report, only 12% of 11 to 16-year -olds claim to know what a career in engineering might involve. We all have a responsibility to provide the right framework to deliver employment-ready individuals to the job market, and to promote the career opportunities our industry offers.
Apprenticeships are also key to up-skilling. The Nestlé apprenticeships cover a wide range of disciplines from engineering to business administration. Our advanced engineering apprenticeship can lead to a level three engineering NVQ, a foundation degree course or even a BSC. Major companies also need to support the sector by providing graduate training places. At Nestlé, our graduate programme has produced a new generation of leaders and has high levels of retention 95% of the graduates we've hired in the past five years are still with us.
I would ask the government to look at introducing and increasing financial incentives to encourage businesses to accelerate the number of people going through apprentice, graduate and training schemes. I welcome the Advanced Manufacturing review and am encouraged by the chance for a more collaborative approach between our industry and government.
We all have a responsibility to ensure we develop long-term solutions to ensure food and drink manufacturers can achieve their full potential in the UK.
Paul Grimwood is chairman and CEO of Nestlé UK & Ireland. He was recently named chairman of the FDF Competitiveness Streeting Group.