Research reveals that there is high demand nationally for well trained personnel in the food sector. A large number of employees are due to retire, and it is also proving difficult to attract the right secondary vocational education (MBO) students and higher professional education (HBO) students, since automation and robotisation create the need for higher skilled technical personnel. The regional Food Innovation Academy ensures that students are better educated for jobs in the sector. Associated businesses help design the study programmes, so that they are aligned with the modern business community. In order to have a major impact and be able to offer students enough internships, it is important that as many food businesses as possible in our region participate in the Food Innovation Academy.
Personnel needed for the future
‘The Food Innovation Academy aims to place a hundred well trained MBO graduates a year on the labour market. The emphasis is on food technologists and process operators at levels 3 and 4. There is also a need for electrical and mechanical engineers, and of course, HBO graduates. It is important for regional businesses to be able to define the direction and take an important role in developing the study programmes’, explains Arry Verhage, national project leader of the Human Capital Agenda (HCA) Food & Feed.
Verstegen Spices & Sauces in the Spaanse Polder is one of the businesses participating in the Food Innovation Academy. ‘We want to take a leap in professionalisation and our ambition is to grow in Europe. We frequently need a different type of employee as a result of automation and robotisation. More highly trained personnel is necessary, because the sector will be lost without qualified staff. We want to offer our current employees the opportunity to develop along with this trend. In the Verstegen Academy we train existing and new personnel to be able to satisfy the new standards. The courses we provide were developed in association with schools in the region. The Food Innovation Academy also contributes to this objective,’ reveals Michel Driessen, owner-director of Verstegen Spices & Sauces B.V.
Verhage says that many companies recognise the problem of finding good MBO graduates. ‘In other regions we see examples of companies that exchange personnel. A company that needs a lot of low-skilled personnel exchanges employees with a company that is looking for highly-skilled personnel. This is only possible if companies work together.’
Improving the image of the food sector
‘Food companies need to improve the food sector’s image and show how appealing we are. Most food companies are investing in automation and production expansion and offer lots of opportunities for their personnel to continue to develop. However, people are not aware of this. At Verstegen we look at the talent and passion of our employees and try and respond to this as effectively as possible. We offer lots of opportunities in sales, IT, purchasing, product development, R&D, quality, logistics and sustainability. The young people that come here are impressed by our processes’, Michel Driessen says.
An important pillar of the Food Innovation Academy is to familiarise young people with the food sector and kindle their interest in it. Arry Verhage on the role of the Food Innovation Academy: ‘We help businesses open their doors to young people to show them what goes on inside. There is still the common assumption that you stand at a conveyor belt and perform the same repetitive work. However, processes have evolved, and a great deal of technical knowledge is now required. The jobs are completely different from those in the past. We also involve parents in the career choice. We produce a brochure about the different businesses and schools involved in the food industry. We actually have to intensify the campaign for the sector. Lots of companies do not yet engage in any marketing communication or just the bare minimum’. Michel Driessen affirms this: ‘We are very good at what we do, but communicate too little about it’.
'Within five years the Rotterdam Region has become a successful and vibrant food region in Europe with opportunities for the future, and it is a great place to base your business. We are thrilled be contributing to this. A centralised approach is needed for this.'Director-owner Verstegen Spices & Sauces B.V.
The Food Innovation Academy connects businesses and schools
The Food Innovation Academy was created by the Federatie Nederlandse Levensmiddelen Industrie (FNLI) (Dutch Food Industry Federation) sector organisation, which outsources the labour market theme to SOL, a fund for training and development in the food industry. ‘The Food Innovation Academy is a cooperation partnership between businesses and schools that jointly develop study programmes. Students often find themselves at the work location, but they also need a place to practise. In Vlaardingen we are developing a building where this is possible. Above all, the Food Innovation Academy is a network of businesses and schools that jointly develop study programmes. Via the HCA we support the eight regions in the Netherlands by connecting parties and developing tools, such as brochures and course materials. Demand differs per region, and we exchange knowledge and experience. We organise lots of things at the national level so that we can achieve something effective at a single event.
‘Verstegen Spices & Sauces offers various internships for students from Wellant, Lentiz and InHolland. HBO graduates are attracted from InHolland for practical research. You see InHolland’s focus increasingly shifting from business to process technology since their association with the Food Innovation Academy’, explains Michel Driessen. He says that the study programmes should be more in line with today’s business sector.
Join the Food Innovation Academy
The Food Innovation Academy is looking for companies to join in and offer students guest classes and internship places. ‘We are also looking for machine suppliers so that we can train students in the very latest technology that the suppliers are making available. We have laid good foundations with a number of businesses and schools, now it’s time to scale up!’ exclaims Arry Verhage. Collaborating with the Rotterdam Food Cluster is viewed as a good incentive in this respect.
Source photos: zuivelwerkt.nl