Competencies for Food Graduate Careers

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New framework to outline key competencies for food sciences graduates

Following the publication of the Wakeham Review in May 2016, the ability of higher education institutions to produce employable graduates for the agri-food sector has been brought into focus. The report highlighted that higher education institutions and businesses need to ensure graduates entering work have the right skills for the future.

Responding to the challenge, Emma Weston, Associate Professor, Division of Food Sciences, University of Nottingham initiated a research project to explore what makes a ‘great graduate for the food industry’ and how educational providers can optimise the curricula to facilitate this.

‘Competencies for Food Graduate Careers’, developed in collaboration with IFST and representatives from SMEs, retailers, manufacturers, research and development, higher education Institutions, aims to disseminate a competency framework tailored to typical technical careers pathways for graduates entering the food industry.

The core document comprises of a list of 48 elements that provide a consistent and relevant set of behaviours, knowledge and skills that may be desirable in a food science graduate. A list of 14 role types and associated definitions were then reviewed and ratified by the industry stakeholder group. They are illustrated below:

The online interactive tool will be openly accessible in the New Year so it can be used by students to help them identify and pursue careers suited to their strengths; employers to help with recruitment and selection; and educators to help ensure courses reflect the needs of the food sector.   

Key stakeholders involved in the project included: Campden BRI, Fresh Cut Foods, Greencore, MorePeople, PepsiCo, Sainsbury’s, Warburtons, University of Nottingham as well as Cardiff Metropolitan University and Queens University Belfast. In addition, over 200 responses were obtained from the wider food and drink industry in a bespoke survey. 

Emma Weston commented: “At University of Nottingham we are really passionate about developing the highest quality food sciences graduates to enter the UK food and drink industry. This means more than just delivering excellent scientific education; students also need to have developed a wider set of competencies to enable them to be successful in their first graduate job. The support from industry has been superb and provided material that is as true to life as possible. Of course at Nottingham we are integrating the project results into our teaching this academic year.  However the 'Competencies for Food Graduate Careers’ is aimed to be of practical value to all students in personal development and securing their first role in the industry. Further opportunities for use are also being explored for employers and educators.”

Andrew Gardner, Operations Director, IFST added: “IFST is keen to support roll-out and promote adoption of the ‘competencies’ as they have an immediate relevance and should impact positively on the sector in terms of how universities shape food science degree programmes to meet the needs of the sector.” 

Food and drink is the largest manufacturing sector in the UK employing around 400,000 people. It is estimated that 140,000 recruits will be needed by 2024 to meet the growing demand.

The white paper (see pdf below) includes links to descriptors of each of the 14 typical food graduate roles and associated competences.  An interactive tool will be available next year on the University of Nottingham website. For more information about the project or to obtain a copy of the Competencies for Food Graduate Careers, please contact Emma Weston, the Project Leader emma.weston@nottingham.ac.uk.

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