THE UK’s agri-food sector should be treated as a strategic industry, and UK food security as a public good, says a report launched at this year’s party conferences.
The Lifelong Education Institute’s latest report ‘Hungry to Learn: Lifelong Learning Pathways for the Agri-food Sector’ raises concerns over the neglected potential of the agri-food sector in the UK, and especially around the gap between its skills requirements and the available skills provision by agri-food education institutions.
While the agri-food sector faces immense pressure to help the UK meet national-level policy targets around sustainability and accessibility, the report states that the government and Innovate UK do not offer consistent, sector-wide, support and skills investment. These are needed to foster innovation growth, and to also address unresolved strategic questions about workforce training priorities.
Dr Marius Ostrowski, report author and Executive Director of the Lifelong Education Institute, said, “The UK today faces vast strategic threats: climate change, global conflict, a fragmenting global market and a cost-of-living crisis. To overcome these threats, it needs an economy founded on sustainability and resilience, and it has to protect and nurture its strategic resources.
“The agri-food sector holds the key to putting the UK economy on a secure and stable footing. But it cannot do so without major investment in the skills that underpin its future productivity. Government and business need to work with education providers to build a bottom-to-top system of agri-food training, upskilling, and career progression fit for the 21st century.”
The report recommends that the government should look to categorise food security, accessibility, and sustainability as a public good and give the agri-food sector the status of a strategic industry, which will help unlock funds and change its approach to employment and skills development.
The report, supported by Harper Adams University and the School of Sustainable Food and Farming, was launched at an event at the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, with a second event taking place at the Labour party conference in Liverpool.
George Eustice MP, former Defra Secretary added: “During the pandemic, we soon learnt which jobs were truly important, and all those working in the food industry became key workers.
“Linked to this, more work is needed to bring consistency and credibility to the system of qualifications. Multiple changes over the decades have undermined perceptions about the credibility of some qualifications. Hungry to Learn makes many policy recommendations which are a powerful contribution to the debate. There has never been a time where our food system and the importance of domestic output to our national security has attracted such attention, and it is important to ensure that this translates into concrete progress.”
Harper Adams Vice-Chancellor Professor Ken Sloan was among panellists discussing the report. He said, “This report for the Lifelong Learning Institute makes an important contribution on how we might achieve an uplift in skills, innovation and efficiency across the workforce of those employed by and contributing to the food and farming sectors.
“Harper Adams University is the UK’s premier specialist institution for food production and technology, animal health and wellbeing, and their contribution to sustainable, living environments for our planet’s inhabitants.
“Being able to feed all of our population, in as equitable way as possible, with nutritious, sustainably produced food, is of the utmost importance both in the UK and around world.
“99.2% of our students take up employment within the sectors we serve, with alumni from Harper Adams accounting for 25 per cent of graduate positions within UK food and farming.
“This is a strong basis on which to help shape the provision of life long skills acquisition and development across these sectors and ‘Hungry To Learn’ provides some tangible recommendations to help shape this critical sector for the better.
“With the founding partners of the School of Sustainable Food and Farming, I am delighted that Harper Adams University has been able to contribute to this study and would like to thank both ResPublica and the Lifelong Education Institute for shining a light on this issue at the current time.”