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The kids are alright... aren't they?

As the economy recovers and demand for labour rises, food and grocery businesses will have to compete with others to recruit and retain the best young people

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A look at how the food and grocery industry is helping the workplace skills gap through Feeding Britain's Future.

Good news…

…the labour market in the UK is looking pretty healthy.

Although Office for National Statistics figures released in July and August show UK unemployment has risen for the first time in two years, a record number of people – around 31m – are still in work. There are 355,000 more people in work than this time last year. As the number of unfilled vacancies grows, there is also a good chance that those still looking for work will soon find something suitable.

The quality of employment also seems to be improving. In the latest year, full-time employment expanded, whilst part-time working was stable, meaning the proportionate number of people working part-time because full-time work is unavailable is falling, although it remains high by historical standards (Source: ONS).

With demand for labour rising relative to supply, wages are coming up – averages wage growth has outpaced inflation for at least 10 consecutive months (Source: ONS), meaning that the average worker is becoming gradually better-off, clawing back the spending power lost over recent years.

Even young adults, who suffered badly in the recession, are seeing their fortunes improve – unemployment amongst young adults is falling, in terms of both overall number and number-versus-population (Source: ONS).


Source: ONS, August 2015

Codes refer to specific ONS measures, data is seasonally-adjusted

But there is bad news…

…and there are three issues worth noting, which make it clear that our industry employability programme − Feeding Britain’s Future – is offering much-needed support to those seeking work.

  1. However strong labour demand becomes, there is always likely to be a body of individuals that struggle to find work due to lack of qualifications, experience and so on. This group will require additional support and guidance to move into employment – and the urgency will only increase as benefits for working-age individuals are reformed
  2. The government’s Budget of Summer 2015 introduced a new National Living Wage, which means that the minimum cost to employ labour will gradually begin to rise (the NLW will apply initially to those over 25 years only) Source: HM Treasury, Budget documents, July 2015
    Employers must therefore be able to derive more value from each worker – and from each hour that is worked (i.e. labour productivity must rise). This implies that individual skills and capability will be critical.
  3. Although the employment situation for young adults is improving, this group remains vulnerable; those aged under 24 are significantly more likely to be unemployed than older people

The skills gap

So if a lack of workplace skills, experience and culture can prevent young adults from moving from education into employment, however good their qualifications, how does the situation in the UK compare to the rest of the world?

A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development examines this international context:

  • Unemployment amongst young adults is not a problem limited to the UK. The number of young people not in education, employment or training (NEET) in the UK is in-line with the OECD average
  • Young adults in the UK do not compare well with their counterparts elsewhere in terms of literacy, numeracy or IT skills, with numeracy being especially weak (university graduates and older adults in the UK are also weak in this area)

Source: Survey Of Adults Skills, OECD, 2012

Covers 16-29yr olds only

Source: Survey Of Adults Skills, OECD, 2012

Covers 16-29yr olds only

These individuals are likely to find themselves permanently disadvantaged in the workplace, especially as they must find work in a single EU labour market – effectively competing with every other unemployed person in the EU.

This lack of basic skills is a concern for employers in the food and grocery industry, if only for reasons of practical self-interest:

  • Competition for quality recruits

  • As the economy recovers and demand for labour rises, food and grocery businesses will have to compete with others to recruit and retain the best young people; therefore, the cost and difficulty of recruitment may rise
  • Teens and young adults represent future shoppers

  • If weaker individuals do not achieve their full workplace potential, then lifetime earnings will be compromised and, therefore, so will demand for goods and services

But while food and grocery companies should understand the possible impact of this macro-economic picture on their businesses, they can also help form part of the solution.

Opportunity in the food and grocery industry

Across the industry, there is a strong tradition of developing people regardless of their experience of formal education. Many of today’s leaders started out on the shop floor at a young age. While qualifications certainly help, someone can still enjoy a successful food and grocery career by developing skills along the way.

The food and grocery industry is Britain’s largest private sector employer, accounting for one in every seven jobs (Source: Defra Food Statistic Pocket Book 2014). This scale implies great responsibility but also great opportunity to create social benefit.

Since 2012, IGD has been bringing food and grocery businesses together to help unemployed people – especially young adults – into the workplace.

This programme – Feeding Britain’s Future – has two areas of focus: school-based workshops than run throughout the year and our annual Skills for Work Month that takes place in September.

Skills for Work Month brings together companies from across the industry to take part in workshops that have two main aims:

  • showcasing the variety of career paths available in food and grocery industry
  • equipping young people and the wider unemployed with vital employability skills

These workshops run throughout September and cover topics like interview preparation, CV writing and networking. By the end of 2015, the programme will have offered more than 60,000 opportunities and we continue to rely on the support of industry volunteers.

Make a difference by getting involved

The impact of these workshops is significant, with 97% of the young people who took part in a workshop last year saying they felt more confident about applying for a job as a result.

UK food and grocery businesses have provided invaluable support for Feeding Britain’s Future to date, but further help is always welcome!

Could you help by offering workshops at your offices or factory sites in September?

To find out more about Feeding Britain’s Future and register your interest in being part of it, click here.

Related information on

PDF: Feeding Britain's Future Summary Report 2014

Feeding Britain's Future 2014 saw more than 200 food and grocery companies offer 15,000 skills training opportunities to young unemployed people. To find out more about this year's campaign  download the Feeding Britain's Future Summary Report as a PDF.