The skills gap the UK's food and drink sector is currently experiencing is a significant problem, according to industry officials.
Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre has been hosting the Foodex event over the past few days (between Monday March 24th and Wednesday March 26th), with a debate entitled Plugging the Skills Gap raising several issues.
Derek Williams, director of quality and standards at Food and Drink Qualifications, believes the shortage of skilled employees in the industry will not be resolved quickly, British Baker reports.
Speaking at the conference, he said: "The skills gap in our industry is a reality. Our problem is based upon decades of imbalance in the skills equation. What we see, therefore, is that this imbalance between the demand for skills and the supply of skills is really at the root of the problem."
Mr Williams added that the industry could face long-term damage if the skills gap issue is not resolved in the near future.
Chief executive of the National Skills Academy for Food and Drink Justine Fosh took part in the discussion alongside Mr Williams and highlighted that the majority of young people do not understand the food and drink sector when it comes to choosing a career.
Ms Fosh said as the industry is so diverse, it is difficult for students to comprehend the options available to them in the sector. She added that this is a particular weakness for the industry and needs working on in the future.
During the course of the debate she outlined three targets for the food industry to address, with developing scale, increasing presence among the public and improving consistency so it always meets excellent standards being key aims.
Ms Fosh and fellow panel members discussed the idea of visiting schools to get children interested in working in the industry from a young age.
Such visits have been taking place in Northern Ireland over the past six years, with the number of young people wanting to study food-related subjects in college increasing as a result.
Ms Fosh added that the country's politicians need to get more involved with the sector too, which will hopefully have a knock-on effect on bringing the industry to the forefront of the public's minds.