Kate Mathieson, Food and Drink Subject Mentor at CDN, explains how she is connecting colleges with the opportunities offered to young people by Scotland’s fast-growing food and drink sector.

Scotland’s food and drink sector generates annual sales of £14.4billion, with 17,500 companies employing nearly 120,000 people. It forecasts that it will need 27,000 entrants over the next 10 years, with an increasing emphasis on higher-skilled and professional positions.

Clearly, the sector offers young people opportunities. However, when pupils are faced with making study choices at our colleges, there is a lot on offer, with many of our colleges rightly having gained excellent reputations and accolades for high quality teaching in traditional areas such as Care, Hospitality and Tourism, Oil and Gas Engineering, Digital Technologies and Health and Beauty.  

It has been my role to raise awareness of the modern food and drink production sector and maintain the momentum and enthusiasm generated by the Scottish Food and Drink Federation (SFDF) Scotland Schools programme. I have been working with colleges to encourage them to engage with the sector and offer educational pathways either into work or onto Higher Education through articulation with Degree Awarding bodies. I have also assisted the SFDF in setting up regional school/college working partnerships to ensure a pipeline of motivated and informed young people and I was delighted to speak at a recent SFDF Parliamentary Reception.

I have been working closely too with SQA and have been using the SCQF Level 6 qualification – The National Progression Award (NPA) in Food Manufacturing, as my rallying cry. This NPA is a practical, modern 4 Unit qualification developed with the help of producers which examines many of the modern processes involved in food production, its safety, its sustainability, marketing and consumer impact.

CDN developed a learning and teaching toolkit for the NPA, which will soon be available online, so that teachers and lecturers can be more comfortable introducing young people to the workings of an industry with which they are less familiar.

The NPA in Food Manufacturing could be the first step a young person takes towards Laboratory Manager, Product Development Manager, Production Director, Packaging Designer or Marketing Professional in one of our world-renowned food producers. It is also flexible enough to offer relevant underpinning knowledge to pupils or students working through the SVQ route or an apprenticeship, as it gives context about all the departments in a food production environment that must work together.

Additionally, along with Perth College UHI, Moira Stalker of SFDF and I developed and were involved in the delivery of a pilot CPD programme for secondary school teachers and lecturers to develop their knowledge about the sector and the career opportunities it offers. The pilot involves five Perthshire Schools, Perth College UHI and comprises six modules including a factory visit and student-led projects. It finishes in February. We hope to take the programme of CPD out to the regions in its final format once evaluated, developed and funding is sourced.

Our Food & Drink Steering Group at CDN has been able to influence SQA to modify the current HNC/D in Food Science and Technology to update it, render it more accessible and deliverable by more Scottish Colleges. That work is very current with FDF Scotland members keen to input into the final format of the qualification.

I have run events around the country and am planning more this year, with the help of our partners to promote the industry, the qualifications, the study routes and give an insight into the global importance and ever-changing needs of the sector.

Partnership, collaboration and joined-up working have been key to building the momentum to date and I am grateful to SFDF, SQA, Education Scotland, Seafood Scotland and the many speakers and exhibitors who have given of their time, passion and enthusiasm to get these messages over to our young workforce of the future and who have helped and supported me and my work enormously.

Following the parliamentary reception a food and drink Skills Investment Plan aimed at attracting a new generation of skills professionals was launched. Facilitated by Skills Development Scotland (SDS) in partnership with industry it aims to increase access to training and development opportunities.

Download the Skills Investment Plan for Scotland’s Food and Drink Sector.

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