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It's vital for employers in the food and drink industry to engage schoolchildren, and it would probably be good for your industry too

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Amy Crooks, our trailblazer from the National Skills Academy of Food & Drink explains how she is helping employers in her industry to engage with school children. She also give tips to other employers who wish to do the same.

Why do you think it’s important for the food and drink industry to engage school aged children?

Most teachers aren’t aware of the diverse range of careers that are available within the food and drink industry – and we have jobs that need filling. Therefore we need to focus on informing the pupils about the apprentice opportunities, and getting them interested.

Also, I think there’s a common misconception that jobs in this industry involve being freezing cold or wearing hairnets and wellies. Young people need to know that we have the same needs as other industries – our industry also uses photographers, accountants, lawyers and marketers - to name but a few!

How old are the children you target?

We aim to engage with children who have yet to make their GCSE choices. This is because, if they fail to take a particular GCSE, certain routes may be shut to them. For instance, a food technology or engineering career may need a science GCSE.

Tell me a bit about your strategies

We connect with children in two major ways. Firstly we train apprentices and young people who are already working different parts of the industry to be ‘school ambassadors’. These individuals are put forward by the Food and Drink related businesses that have a membership with us. They are often quite young – for example aged 18-24 and in the early stages of their careers. Our research tells us that school children are more likely to relate to people of this age and profile. Many will also have started their careers as apprentices.

"..we have a model that other companies in different industries can follow - even if they have less funding or resources than we do."

How do they learn how to be school ambassadors?

They attend a two day residential training course where we teach them general facts and information about the industry that they can pass on. We also teach them how they can make an effective presentation to schools regarding their own specific career choice.

By the end of the training they will have a presentation they can actually use in a school. We also make sure that they know how to present information in a fun, kid friendly way. For instance if they are talking about the amount of Oreo cookies that go through a factory each week, they might say ‘These would fill x number of Olympic Swimming pools’ – or ‘This amount is equivalent to the amount of Taylor Swift albums sold in month’.

What happens after the training?

They will start contacting schools to arrange visits. These may be schools they have a personal link to – perhaps they went to them themselves, or they may be local to their company premises. Some schools will also contact us through our website and ask for visits.

What other strategies do you use?

The second major way we connect with schools is through our ‘Tasty Careers’ website. Here we have a section aimed at children. It has information about over 90 careers in the food and drink industry. The children will be able find out what is involved in each job, and exactly what skills or qualification they will need to follow this route. We have ‘a day in the life’ features, and case studies involving specific young people who are already in these careers. We also have details of the current opportunities and apprenticeships that are available right now.

The site also feature a section for teachers. This includes resources they can download such as information packs and posters.

Do you think employers reading this will be able to follow some of your strategies?

Yes - I do think we have a model that other companies in different industries can follow - even if they have less funding or resources than we do.

Most companies could add one or two case studies involving young people on their website and offer information about different careers and what qualifications are needed.

They could take a few days to put together one generic presentation that could be used in schools. This might involves fun facts about the industry and information about the different careers available. They could then recruit a few young apprentices who currently work with them to go and visit local schools and give these presentations. I would advise all employers to think about a schools strategy, because it can only be a positive thing - both for their own company and their industry in general.

Other links relating to Employers Connecting with Schools:

Find out what happened when Harvey Coulson from HEINEKEN became a schools ambassador.

See how trailblazer HEINEKEN uses innovative techniques to get young people interested in engineering apprenticeships.

How BAE Systems captures the attention of school children

'Both employers and pupils are missing out' - why a young apprentice and a teenage school boy think employers must engage with schools more

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