STEM skills gap in grocery industry

IGD announced initiatives to tackle the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills gap in the food and grocery industry.

The research and training charity will incorporate STEM activities in all its Feeding Britain’s Future programmes. This will be undertaken in secondary schools via dedicated workshops, through the Educator Hub that is aimed at teachers and at five UK universities providing a taster of food science degrees to aspiring students.

Fiona Miller, head of employability and skills at IGD, said: “We know through our skills research that the food and grocery sector is experiencing a considerable STEM skills gap and that students have limited knowledge of the opportunities our industry holds.

“Our job is to help close this gap in knowledge about the potential our industry holds for young talent with a STEM education. Furthermore, our initiatives are aligned with the government’s career strategy and help schools to link curriculum learning to careers especially in STEM subjects.”

STEM workshops, aimed at Year 12 science and maths students, feature volunteers from the food and grocery industry with a STEM background and are now applying their training in industry roles like engineers, food scientists and technologists.

Piloted in 2018, 50 STEM workshops have trained 1,000 students and featured volunteers from 35 companies, IGD said.

“Our STEM workshops provide a personalised experience for students with relatable role models demonstrating the vast number of paths available to them. This has helped make the pilot phase incredibly successful – with 95% of students feeling they have developed their employability skills and are more prepared for the world of work following a STEM workshop,” Miller said.

The Educator Hub is a free online resource for teachers and careers advisors to help link the curriculum to careers by providing information about the food and grocery industry through case studies, films and classroom activities.

Food Science Summer Schools are three-day courses hosted at five UK universities, providing Year 12 science students the opportunity to understand the role of science in food and raise awareness of the career opportunities available in the industry. Since 2010, over 1,000 students have been trained at these Summer Schools.

STEM activities in the School Partnerships programme, where food and grocery companies develop long-term relationships with a secondary school in their community, have also increased in 2018, IGD noted. Activities include manufacturing site tours, food safety challenges, new product development showcases and bringing engineers into the classroom to describe their role, highlighting the skills required and opportunities available.