As today is International Women’s day and the theme is #break the bias, we are looking at perceptions of the food and drink industry. According to the Food and Drink Federation, the food industry contributes £120 billion to the UK economy and employs around 4.1 million people. Food and drink is the largest part of the manufacturing sector, which is bigger than automotive and aerospace combined.
The industry is perceived as being low skilled and low paid however, there are a wide range of roles requiring a variety of skills levels. The food and drink industry rely on a network of different professions and processes, which come into play at different times. If you look at the whole farm to fork process of the food we eat, a range of job roles are involved from farmers, fishermen agricultural workers and vets through to production managers, engineers, scientists and biochemists. Roles within logistics and distribution, human resources and admin roles are also key parts of the industry.
At Harper Adams University, the Food Industry Technical Professional apprenticeship applies to various roles within the sector, including quality manger, hygiene manager or product innovation and development technologist. Women count for 59% of those on programme and they work across a range of employers, from poultry and beef production to pizza and bread.
The meat industry celebrates women in the industry through annual award ceremonies and through research conducted by Meat Business Women. 36% of the current workforce in the meat industry are women. This is often due to perception of the industry, but the reality is often different.
We spoke to Ana Artingstall, who is a QA Team Leader at Avara Foods. The company employs over 7,000 staff in the poultry industry within the UK. She is in the third year of her Food Industry Technical Apprenticeship:
“When I joined this industry and left a previous job for my current Job pre-conceptions where evident from the get go.
There were some small comments that were made by my previous employees about going to work in a meat factory, like I was doing something wrong by choosing this path.
I have always been vocal about how the production environment pays competitively when compared to other industries, and I have had numerous conversations with previous colleagues about a career in this industry.
I have not always been met with the greatest response and the general consensus is that just because you work in a meat factory you must be working the line. There is very little understanding as to how many departments contribute to the running of a factory.
There is a perception of the industry being male dominated, which does not translate to my experience. Along the way I had the pleasure of working with a diverse number of people both male and female from different backgrounds and I would say that most departments have a good percentage of both male and female workers.
I thoroughly enjoy working in the meat industry as a female, and feel that are plenty of prospects for males and females alike.
I enjoy breaking stereotypes and preconceptions, I will champion this career path as a woman to all”.
If you are thinking about your future career and have not considered the food and drink industry, have a look at the wide range of opportunities available – you might be surprised!