How Cadbury is addressing the skills gap in the food and drink sector

Mondelez International

This blog post has been produced for the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce to provide industry insight on the findings of the Birmingham Economic Review.

The Birmingham Economic Review 2017 is produced by the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and is a high quality resource for organisations seeking to understand Birmingham to inform research, policy or investment decisions.

This post is featured in Chapter 5: Key Sectors of the Birmingham Economic Review, which can be found here. You can read the full report and report summary here.

Birmingham has a long-standing and proud history as a centre of manufacturing in the UK and the iconic Bournville site has played a significant role in that, as the home of Cadbury’s Chocolate since 1879.  

We are very proud of this heritage at Mondelez (the UK’s largest branded food manufacturer) and is something we want to build upon it.  

To this end, we are currently working hard to ensure that Bournville – and importantly Birmingham’s manufacturing base – continues to compete successfully against other manufacturers across the globe. 

Competitiveness is not something that is just happens.  It requires a long term commitment to investment, training and innovation. 

We have recently completed a £75 million redevelopment program in Bournville. This was an investment in world class production facilities that have improved productivity, and as a result competitiveness. 

When we embarked on this investment journey in 2012, it cost three times as much to manufacture a chocolate bar in Birmingham, as it did in Germany.  That wasn’t a sustainable gap.  So we chose to invest in the UK, in Birmingham.   

A vital part of securing manufacturing jobs in Birmingham and the UK is the attraction and development of talent.  There is no doubt that in food manufacturing we have a significant skills gap across the UK.  By 2024 it is estimated the industry will require 130,000 newly skilled recruits[1].   It is of critical importance that we meet the demands of this growing skills challenge.  To do that we need to celebrate the wonderful career opportunities that are available in the food industry and invest in early careers to meet our evolving manufacturing needs and skills that aren’t obtained in the classroom to create our chocolate operators of the future.

Our own research shows only 9% of young people in the UK see themselves working in food manufacturing, and only 22% have ever visited a manufacturing site, this compares unfavourably to over 62% of young people in Germany. Young people in the UK lack the understanding of just how rewarding a career in food and drink manufacturing is and the exciting opportunities available to them. 

To try and combat this, we have put our time and energy into changing the perception of our industry by supporting the IGD’s Feeding Britain’s Future programme. The programme offers over 60,000 learning opportunities to young unemployed people and school students. Our leaders and colleagues volunteer their time to bring to life the world of work for young people, highlighting the skills required to succeed and demonstrating the variety of roles to be had in the food and drink industry.

But more needs to be done.  We need support and investment from government, and industry collaboration to change the image of food and drink manufacturing. We need schools to provide the basic skills in English and Maths, as well as inspiring pupils into STEM subjects, and careers advisors to connect with businesses to provide alternative pathways. We recognise the value apprentices bring to our business and are committed to investing in a sustainable apprenticeship programme. 

In our business, apprentices are a vital pipeline of talent to help us close this skills gap.  We are proud to employ 55 apprentices in the UK.  But we still struggle to recruit people with the right skills. As part of our commitment to filling this gap, we want to ensure we make the most of the new Apprenticeship Levy - brought in earlier this year to change the way in which apprenticeships are funded – that is undoubtedly a significant cost to any business. 

We have asked the government to consider three things to help us all achieve an uplift in the number of apprentices we employ.  Firstly, allow businesses the ability to use the Levy funding for more than just training, for example apprentice salaries. Secondly, evolve the Levy to enable a broader range of training for upskilling employees – existing and new - across all functions and levels within an organisation.  For example, sales, marketing, HR and finance. 

And finally, I ask that the demanding standards for the highly technical roles we have in our sector are agreed; this is currently a significant challenge and means we are not able to extend our programme until at least 2018.

It’s a stark fact that survival of a strong manufacturing footprint in Birmingham for another generation is neither inevitable, nor easy – sadly Rover in Longbridge is an example of this. However when we do invest in our sites and our people then the rewards are high.

As a result of £75 million investment into skills and installing four new chocolate production lines, we are proud to be able to bring new products to Bournville for the first time in years, including Cadbury Dairy Milk OREO and Cadbury Dairy Milk Tiffin.

Bringing more products to Bournville means more security for the future, which means we can attract more skills and talent into Birmingham to continue to invent and make the nation’s favourite chocolate at the heart and home of Cadbury; Bournville. Tastes good to me!

[1] Food and Drink Federation