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Following the UK’s formal departure from the EU, skills shortages are already beginning to bite in the food manufacturing sector. In this blog, Matthew Carr, joint-managing director at Integrated Food Projects, explains how firms can rebuild their workforces.


If COVID-19 wasn’t enough of a challenge for the food and drink industry, manufacturers are already of Brexit-related skills shortages. Many have already experienced loss of manpower and skilled individuals. As EU nationals return to their home countries, this trend is only set to continue.

People who have spent years learning about the industry and gaining valuable experience, have now left the UK. This has caused the talent pool to shrink dramatically, and it’s increasingly difficult to attract and retain staff with the same levels of knowledge.

With war for talent growing fiercer, a people-first approach is essential. If they want retain staff and stand out from their competitors, food manufacturers must work towards becoming an ‘employer of choice’.

Senior managers can do this by building on the lessons that COVID-19 forced on them and adopting a flexible mindset. It’s also imperative to invest in existing staff, and offer options for career development. Not only will this ensure a workforce feels valued, but it also starts to refresh and renew the shrinking talent pool, paving the way for a more sustainable future. Simple steps such as offering clear career progression, goals and opportunities to gain qualifications are key, as are opportunities to move around functions to gain experience of different parts of the manufacturing process, upskill and add variety to their work.

This kind of investment in staff reflects a wider industry trend – and at IFP, we’ve helped to deliver multiple capex projects that place staff wellbeing high on the priority list. More and more, equal time is spent on designing facilities to ensure employee wellness is as much of a priority as is building the factory itself.

Creating a positive working environment should also consider the use of automation and technology. Digital tools are now a baseline requirement for all manufacturers and this will affect the number of staff needed to work on certain tasks in factories, and the responsibilities they’re assigned. Understanding where value can be added to these processes can appeal to the new flurry of talent, paving the way for a workforce that understands the wider vision of the ‘factories of the future’ and can use the tech needed to succeed.

Ever since the UK voted to leave in the 2016 referendum, skilled, EU nationals have been slowly leaving the UK – either returning home or seeking out opportunities elsewhere in mainland Europe. On top of that, the end of free movement will undoubtedly be a barrier to those who would once have come to the UK to work in manufacturing.

With the right mix of investment in people and automation, there’s no reason why manufacturers can’t plug the skills gaps left behind by Brexit. What will be key is their ability to create attractive places to work and build a long and rewarding career.


Integrated Food Projects have partnered with Kettleby Foods on a number of high-profile multi-million pound capital projects since 2003/4, helping the business to develop and grow. Throughout that time they have provided cost-effective and efficient solutions on development projects both at our existing ready meals production facility and also in creating a new satellite facility. The projects at our existing facility were managed without impact on our ability to service our own clients, and all projects have been delivered within budget, in a timely fashion and to the requisite standards of safety and quality. Their team work ethos and professional approach ensure successful projects and I would utilise Integrated Food Projects in the future without hesitation.

- Jarrod Thorndyke, Production Director

I have worked with Integrated Food Projects on many capital expenditure projects since 2004, the latest being the development of the new plot of land adjacent to our main site. They successfully employed a project delivery process to ensure the integration of a leased modular building solution with the development of the site infrastructure to improve logistics and Health and Safety. Their staff are always positive and enthusiastic and have fostered a team-work approach ensuring another successful project delivered. I look forward to working with them again in the near future.

- Engineering Manager, Major UK Ready Meals Manufacturer