Nick Kuht looks back onto his placement with the AgriFood Team and his contribution to the food system, in a review of the skills and recruitment landscape of the UK food and drink sector.

My name is Nick Kuht, I’m a final year PhD student based at the University of Warwick. I have just taken time away from my studies to undertake a three month placement with the KTN AgriFood team where I carried out a review of the skills and recruitment landscape of the UK food and drink sector.

My PhD project, which is being conducted with G’s Growers, looks at investigating in-field variability within commercial salad onion crops. In short, I’m interested in helping growers produce crops that are of a uniform size and quality. This PhD project is a part of the BBSRC funded Waitrose Collaborative Training Partnership (CTP).

Making an impact and supporting the team

Perhaps unsurprisingly given my current area of PhD research, I have a real interest in our food system, how it functions and what it’ll look like in the future. My research area though means that I spend the majority of my time thinking about primary production in fresh produce. However, this placement allowed me to dive into a hugely important topic affecting the food and drink sector, offering me with an exciting opportunity to look into a different aspect of our food system.

The main focus of the placement, which was born out of the KTN’s Food Sector Group (FSG), was to carry out an analysis of the skills and recruitment landscape across the food and drink sector, with a particular focus on skilled and technical roles. I primarily did this through surveying stakeholders (over 100 respondents) on a number of topics. This survey yielded some extremely interesting results which I have presented in a report that will be released shortly and the findings will be disseminated at the next FSG meeting in February 2021. The report highlights the growing shortfall in the availability of technical and skilled personnel in the sector, as well as raising a number of other related issues requiring urgent attention. The report provides further evidence on the current state of skills and recruitment in food and drink, supporting the sector in taking action to address the major concerns highlighted and develop the talent pipeline it requires to ensure future growth and success.

In addition to the skills and recruitment report, I was also tasked with identifying the external facing resources that exist to promote the food and drink sector. This database of resources has now been passed onto the Institute of Food Science and Technology (IFST), who I have been working closely with throughout the placement. They will now be developing a repository of resources to help promote the food and drink sector as a career destination.

Although much of my three months with KTN was devoted to the report and resources database I produced, I was also fortunate enough to be involved with a range of other activities. For example, I was able to gain an insight into the grant and award application process for research projects. I also attended a BBSRC DRINC (Diet and Health Research Industry Club) dissemination event in November where I learnt about some of the current research that is ongoing across the food and drink sector. And I also provided input to GCRF AgriFood Africa, providing an additional insight into international collaboration opportunities for the UK AgriFood sector, and in this particular case, between the UK and Africa. Finally, I also had the opportunity to produce an article taking a look at the future trends in food and drink and discuss their implications they might have on innovation and opportunities in the sector.

Reflecting on my experience

This placement has been a hugely enjoyable and valuable three months for me, providing me with a unique chance to build on my skills and experiences. Over the course of the placement, I’ve broadened my knowledge of the food sector and the major challenges it faces in the future, most notably the growing recruitment gap that risks the continued success of the industry as a whole. My time at KTN has also offered me a new appreciation of how academia, industry and funding bodies all fit together, collaborating to tackle a range of important issues, all of which will benefit me significantly going forward as I finish my PhD in 2021 and look to build a career. In addition to these numerous opportunities for personal development, I also feel that I’ve been able to have a positive impact on the food and drink sector through the report and database I produced, an aspect of this short placement which I have found extremely rewarding.

Finally, despite the fact that I was unable to meet any of my KTN colleagues in person during my placement, I’m happy to say that such restrictions failed to prevent me from feeling any less welcome and a part of the KTN AgriFood team. Without them, this experience would not have been as valuable or enjoyable as I have found it, and would like to thank them for all their support throughout.

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