Food and drink employers across Scotland are being urged to nominate their STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) ambassadors to inspire the next generation of the workforce.
A network of food and drink ambassadors is being developed within the STEM Ambassadors in Scotland programme to make the food and drink sector a career destination of choice.
With people and skills identified as one of the ways to drive growth in the sector, the initiative plays a key part in supporting young people’s education, illuminating careers and raising aspirations.
Food and drink is the third-largest sector employer in Scotland and the biggest manufacturing employer. It is expected to employ over 77,000 people by 2031, spread across a vast range of different jobs.
However, the sector continues to experience significant staffing shortages, which Moira Stalker, Skills Manager at Food and Drink Federation Scotland, put down to a combination of labour supply challenges, fierce competition from other industries and a scarcity of skills.
She said: “Our recently launched industry growth strategy has identified the need to build a compelling proposition around the diverse range of jobs and careers available within the industry.
“STEM Ambassadors support this by not only delivering world-leading education, but by inspiring young people and building that pipeline of talent we need in the food & drink industry.”
Scottish salmon producer Bakkafrost is already on board, with 10 Ambassadors offering their time and enthusiasm to bring STEM subjects to life.
Bakkafrost operates over 60 sites across the west coast of Scotland and the Hebrides.
Mathilda Lomas, its Veterinary Practice and Cleanerfish Manager and STEM Ambassador, said: “I love informing and inspiring young people, and students find the range of careers available genuinely surprising.
“Bakkafrost operates in some of the most rural parts of Scotland, and it’s great to engage with local communities to help them understand what we do. We need the next generation of fish farmers to come into the sector so it’s a great opportunity to spread the word.
“There’s more to it than just feeding fish: you’re a mathematician, you’re a scientist, you’re a vet. You can be so many things.”
The STEM Ambassadors in Scotland programme is delivered by SSERC, a charity which currently supports over 4,500 ambassadors to deliver engaging STEM experiences for schools, community and youth groups.
Chief Executive Alastair MacGregor said: “The ambassadors work in – or are studying – STEM subjects and volunteer to work with young people to bring those subjects alive through real-life experiences.
“As employers engage with the food and drink ambassador programme, they can make a real difference to young people’s perception of STEM subjects and careers. As well as showcasing the vast array of employment opportunities in this sector, it provides professional learning and development opportunities for staff.
“And feedback shows that the ambassadors increase their own job satisfaction and knowledge, as well as confidence and communication skills.”
Training and support are offered to businesses who sign up to the programme, as well as free enhanced PVG checks, safeguarding training and easy access to resources and volunteering opportunities through a centralised hub.