Europe’s food industry is constantly evolving and adapting — so much so, that it has become one of the most important and dynamic industrial sectors. EU research plays a key role too, with a focus on consumer perceptions and attitudes towards food and nutrition, as well as innovation through advanced technologies in traditional food production, food quality and better understanding of the environmental impact of food. It is estimated that food, together with drinks, has created an industry with a combined annual turnover in excess of EUR 900 billion — this is the single largest manufacturing sector in the EU in terms of turnover, value addition and employment. Indeed, in times of serious unemployment growth in the EU, the food industry is able to maintain jobs, and this adds to the social dimension of the industry. But it’s an area that calls for further research and development, which is why emphasis has been placed on inspiring the next generation of scientists and technologists to explore a career in food.
This is the objective behind an EU-funded support action called TRACK_FAST, which is helping to define the development of a relatively new science. The TRACK_FAST consortium is focused on ensuring the continuation of the EU’s food industry leadership in the global economy, by promoting a higher degree of innovation and competitiveness in the food sector. However, there are challenges: a growing and ageing population; environmental, social and operational sustainability; and ensuring consumer trust and behaviour. So the food and drink industry needs to find ways of staying ahead in a competitive global economy. To do this, innovation has to be applied on a daily basis, via a motivated and well-trained workforce within the industry.
To understand more about the challenges and ways of addressing them, TRACK_FAST conducted a Europe-wide survey aimed at 3,000 professionals. In one particular questionnaire covering 281 food companies, it was observed that only 50 % of the employees working as food scientists and technologists had a degree in food science, technology or engineering. In addition, it was found that 10 % of trained food scientists and technologists employed in Europe did not have a university degree. The most typical education of the remaining professionals was related to fields such as agriculture, chemical engineering, nutrition and environment engineering.
The questionnaires revealed that 85 % of the food industry professionals worked in the areas of quality and safety management and production, and in the areas of research, development and consumer/marketing studies.
These represent important areas of activity within the food and drink professionals; they are enabling TRACK_FAST to focus future efforts on identifying relevant skills.
But it’s not their only area of focus. A forthcoming event in Brussels will bring together
food industry representatives, training and higher education institutions, and policymakers to outline recommendations for the future.
The Open Symposium with presentation of the main results of the TRACK_FAST project on 29 January. Topics covered will include; the skills needed in the industry, the continual professional development portfolio for the food and drink professional, suggestions for actions to attract motivated students, and the role of the different stakeholders in defining the future of the sector and the people working within. The results of a Pan-European survey to more than 3,000 professionals will also be showcased.
Participation is open to any interested stakeholder.