Food and Grocery Skills and Employability Summit 2011 - Joanne Denney-Finch

Date : 22 June 2011

A Pledge for Change

The food and grocery chain … is the ideal place to build a career.

We’re the world’s most important industry.

We influence health and wellbeing … and we shape the environment.

Over 70% of the world’s freshwater is used to produce food … and more than three quarters of UK land is used for farming.

We also make an enormous contribution to the economy.

Globally, we account for about a third of GDP and employ a third of the population.

In the UK, we directly employ over three and a half million people … one in seven of the workforce … more than any other sector.

Indirectly, another big slice of the economy relies on our custom … business and financial services, materials and packaging, construction, energy, media and advertising … to name but a few.

Employees want to be part of a success story … and our industry has been successful … even through the difficult years.

Food is the UK’s largest manufacturing industry and over the last four years, UK food exports are up by 36%.

Our food retailers are winning internationally too.

Farming yields … environmental management … ethical sourcing … shopper empowerment … chilled food technology … distribution efficiency … supply chain integration … store hygiene standards and the whole shopping experience … these are just some of the areas that we’re world famous for.

People want career choice and mobility.

There are more than 400,000 businesses in the UK food chain … from start ups to some of the largest global enterprises.

And the choice of workplace includes the outdoors, high-tech facilities and busy, customer-facing environments.

We invest heavily in our people … because were a people industry … with so many highly responsible roles on the front line

And we promote on merit.

Many of the captains of our industry started their careers on the shop floor.

Increasingly, people want to achieve something socially valuable through their work … and we offer plenty of opportunity here too.

Already, we’ve helped halve the national intake of trans-fats and cut salt consumption by 10%.

British retailers have halved the amount sent to landfill … food manufacturers have cut carbon emissions by more than a fifth … and farmers have reduced their energy use by 22%.

With IGD’s help, a consortium of companies has taken over 160 million miles of HGV traffic off the roads.

And these are just some of the recent achievements.

Anyone who cares about alleviating poverty, solving sustainability or improving public health … can make a massive difference by working in our sector.

So people who want to be part of a critical, highly skilled, fast moving, international industry in growth … should definitely consider a career in food and grocery.

I feel passionately that working in a farm, factory, store or restaurant should be seen as a first … not a last resort.

But I do have a confession to make.

When I was invited to interview with Marks and Spencer … I thought it would be a good way to practice my interviewing technique.

And when I took the job, I expected to stay about 6 weeks.

I soon realised my preconceptions were wrong … and that I’d stumbled across the right career for me.

That’s still a common story today.

So we must get across a more accurate impression to careers advisors, teachers and parents … and that’s a common cause for us all.

We need our industry to be at the forefront of any ambitious young person’s mind … whatever qualifications they hold.

But today we’re talking about employability.

There are a great many people … not yet working for us … who could help build the next era of success … if they had the right support.

It’s about attracting the right people … giving people the right opportunities … and equipping them with the right skills.

And it’s very much in our own interests … as well as the economy’s … to take a lead on employability.

We bring many assets to the employability agenda … apart from sheer scale.

  • Flexibility … we offer full time, part time, seasonal, long term and short term roles to people of every age group.
  • Proximity … no-one in the UK lives far from a farm, food store, pub, restaurant or food manufacturer.
  • And our skills base … we employ experts in many of the key disciplines of the future including technology, sustainability, innovation, teambuilding, entrepreneurship … amongst others.

So what are we doing about employability and what else needs to be done?

We’ll explore these questions throughout the day.

Let’s begin … first by talking about IGD’s work in this area and then by sharing what you’ve told us.

Employability is a high priority for many companies.

There are many exciting company initiatives in place … you’ll hear about some of them later … but we can create a bigger impact from a concerted, collective response.

That’s why … with the help of experts drawn from our member companies… we designed an Employability Pledge … launched in November last year.

The aim is to help thousands of people … from across the country … by offering more … and high quality … opportunities to learn, develop and gain work experience.

So far, 26 companies have signed the pledge.

These are 26 of the biggest names in the business, including all the companies speaking today.

The Pledge is a commitment to do four things:

One … to create opportunities … giving as many people as possible a chance to prove their capability … whether in or out of the workplace.

Two … to help build confidence and employability skills.

Three … to help promote food and grocery as a career of choice … working with schools and colleges.

And finally to share and spread the learnings.

Companies start from different places and with different capabilities.

So we’ve made the Pledge flexible and inclusive.

It’s about the direction of travel … allowing companies to move at varying speeds.

No company is obliged to undertake any particular activity but all commit to some activities and to build them over time.

If that sounds vague … let me clarify by sharing some data.

85% of the Pledge-signing companies are offering work experience to schoolchildren … and 60% intend to scale this area up further.

60% plan to grow their apprenticeship schemes … and a further 25% will launch a new scheme soon.

70% have programmes to help unemployed people get back into work through a form of work trial.

40% offer pre-employment training for ex Armed Forces personnel.

60% are contributing staff to give classroom talks or acting as ambassadors to promote careers in the food and grocery industry;

70% are providing support to school projects ranging from sponsoring prizes to offering resources and materials.

And 50% are working with Higher Education colleges … for instance through summer schools or summer placements.

So that represents real commitment … and you’ll hear from some of the companies later … but our job at IGD is to make a collective impact bigger than the sum of its parts.

We want to embrace the entire food chain … in particular helping small companies … because two-thirds of all new jobs are created by firms employing fewer than 100 people.

And even the smallest business can play a part … for instance through school visits and classroom talks.

A large number of small companies … including farms … could make a huge impact in promoting careers in our industry and securing our future talent.

So what’s IGD doing about it … apart from this event?

Here’s the Skills and Employment section on our website … IGD.com … which is also free and open to all.

Through this site, we’ll support companies in their efforts to provide work experience … offer apprenticeships … link with schools and connect with the unemployed.

With help from many leading businesses, we’re working to distil best practice for those at an earlier stage in the journey.

In your delegate pack, you’ll see a series of company stories.

These are also available on our website … and we’ll be adding many more.

In addition, we’ve posted a checklist on our site for anyone getting started on work experience … with more like this to follow.

We also provide links to a variety of other organisations that offer support.

And if you’d like to showcase your great work then do contact us.

You can have updates delivered to your inbox … through our Skills and Employment Newsletter.

Sign up to this through our website.

Finally, every October, we host an awards evening … and this year we’ve introduced a new employability award … sponsored by Asda.

So that’s what we’re doing … now for your views.

We asked the food and grocery companies coming today to participate in our pre-event survey and 45% of you responded.

We’ll send you the full results with the write up from today … but here are the headlines.

It used to be said that the training budget was the first thing to be cut in a downturn … not any more.

  • 56% of you are raising your training and development budget with only 5% cutting back.

You’re ramping up activity in many different ways … including sponsoring enterprise activities … work place visits … support for school projects … classroom talks and small business mentoring.

Work experience is not just a social obligation.

  • 82% of the companies offering work experience say it’s a vital means of attracting talent to the company.

Bureaucracy is still a frustration.

  • 83% of you say that cutting red tape would help you to scale up apprenticeships.
  • 57% say the same about work experience.

Another problem is making the right contacts.

  • Two thirds of you say that the difficulty in making contacts with schools is restricting your work experience programme.
  • And two thirds also identify this as an impediment to helping the long term unemployed.

Finally, there’s a big job required to help careers advisors fully understand the needs of business.

  • 87% of you cited this as a concern.

When it comes to careers in our sector, the gap between perception and reality is still enormous … and we need to close it.

So the evidence shows accelerating activity … but still some problems are holding us back.

We’ll have plenty to discuss in the breakouts.

I argued earlier that our industry is the ideal place to build a career.

We’re living through a transformation of the food chain caused by a combination of forces … the shifting world economy … the digital revolution … the sustainability challenge … demographic shifts … to name but a few.

So we’re definitely going to need high calibre people at all levels in our organisations.

We can’t afford to waste any talent by failing to recognise it, failing to develop it or failing to give it full opportunity.

For the biggest employer … we’re also often the best kept secret in terms of career opportunities.

We can’t be comfortable with that!

We’re in this together … and we need to turn up the volume … and do it now!

It’s also our responsibility to do what we can to avert the disaster of a “lost generation.”

So I do urge you … if you haven’t already … to sign up to the Employability Pledge.

See us at our stand today.

It’s a no-risk way to show your commitment … and I know how committed you are.

We are the world’s most important industry … we will continue to lead on employability … and we will build success on success.