Lewis schools cook up careers in food and drink

Stornoway-based Stag Bakeries is working with local secondary school pupils to create a new product in an innovative scheme that will see food manufacturers partnering schools to promote the industry as a career destination.

This partnership was originally established by the ‘Skills for Work Strategy’ of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (Western Isles) Education and Children’s Services Department who joined forces with a national project run by the Scottish Food and Drink Federation. The project, entitled ‘A Future in Food is supported by Skills Development Scotland (SDS), Learning and Teaching Scotland, SQA the Scottish Government and businesses in the food and drink industry.

The project was launched in Stornoway by Colin Daniels, Product Development Manager at Stag Bakeries, who gave the pupils an insight into the work of the bakery and the many different skills required to produce their products. The pupils also carried out a taste comparison of the current biscuits in their range.

The local company went on to set S2 pupils at Back, Lionel and Shawbost Schools together with the Nicolson Institute and Sgoil nan Loch on the Isle of Lewis an ambitious challenge to develop a new biscuit to add to their range on sale at the bakery.

The pupils will take on the challenge in teams and will be expected to make a final presentation to the bakery in April when the winning biscuit will be chosen. The pupils will not only be expected to make the biscuit, but also use a range of core transferable skills to undertake market research, scientific analysis of the finished product, investigate issues around sustainability and food miles, identify who their target market is and also set a price for their product.

Colin Daniels, explains that the training and development of the current and future workforce is very important to the bakery:

“I believe that such initiatives have a positive and lasting impact on the food industry. Through the project we hope to go someway to help students understand what actually is involved in the production of foodstuffs that appear on the shelves of shops and a greater understanding of the career opportunities open to people considering the food trade as a future employer.

“From a local angle we, as a relatively large employer on the island, want the business to move forward and continue to be a major part in the life of the island.”

Skills Development Scotland has invested £30,000 into the scheme in order to help plug the skills gap in the industry. This funding from SDS will go towards the creation of learning materials which can be used for other schools which embark upon the programme.

Gerry McBride, Strategic Relations Manager, Food and Drink at Skills Development Scotland said: “The activities undertaken through A Future in Food are designed to make connections between schools, skills and employment opportunities to paint a picture of the career pathways open to young people as they move from full time education into the world of work.

“The food and drink industry offers much more than just production jobs – many of these companies are now looking to recruit chemists, biologists, engineers and a range of other highly skilled personnel.

“These are highly skilled, high value jobs and it is vital our young people recognise the opportunities and are equipped with the skills needed by this dynamic and fast-moving industry.”

Moira Stalker, National Co-ordinator SFDF Schools Programme said: “Food and drink is a tremendously important industry for Scotland and we want to ensure young people consider it a viable career option when they leave school.

“A Future in Food seeks to link schools and businesses together on issues that are relevant to the industry, such as sustainability, ethical trading, food security and health and wellbeing, while offering something interesting and stimulating for the youngsters to work on.”

The initiative has been created to showcase the diverse range of careers available in the sector and is being developed to demonstrate to pupils how the subjects they learn in school relate to the skills required by industry which meets the requirements of the new Curriculum for Excellence.

The food and drink industry is one of Scotland’s priority sectors, with production alone providing employment for around 50,000 people and generating an annual turnover of around £7.6 billion.

However, there is widespread misunderstanding about the career prospects in the industry, leaving it with skills gaps and labour shortages in high-value areas such as engineering, food science and food technology.