Food manufacturer’s need for automation following Brexit is resulting in a competition for top software and engineering talent. The food industry has labour availability issues which will further exacerbate rising costs associated with the living wage. With little opportunity to raise prices in a challenging retail environment, automation and robotics is the go to approach to cut costs and mitigate labour supply risks.
The food sector employs 400,000 people of which 35% are EU migrants. With question marks over their future rights to work, manufacturers are investing in automation to keep costs down and our production lines running. The Financial Times, succinctly highlighted the issues in the case of James Hook, the owner of PD Hook chicken hatcheries in Oxfordshire.
He employs 2,000 staff in over 100 farms, with as much as 80 per cent of his workers in some parts of the business coming from Eastern Europe. As a result of the shortage, he has shut down one farm and is considering whether to close a further two. James explains more:
“It’s just getting more and more difficult to find people,” he said. “We go to the usual sources and they are not there. Europeans want to make a life but they’re worried about their future here. At the moment there’s no clear outcome after Brexit — and if these workers have job options outside the UK, they will take those.”
Further down the supply chain, these same changing market conditions have led to a 10 fold increase in automation enquiries for Peterborough-based engineering and technology company OAL. Jake Norman, Head of Marketing at OAL explains,
“Automation is the trend in food manufacturing right now. The tough trading environment has led to businesses of all sizes taking action and deploying automation to cut costs. The phone just keeps ringing!”
The family business is looking to recruit engineers across a number of disciplines including software development, robotics, mechanical and project engineering. The company works with leading brands including Heinz, Bakkavor and Yeo Valley and are investing 8.2% of turnover in research and development, in robotics and automation solutions. One of their highest profile developments, APRIL, the robotic chef, is a new system for changing the way food is handled and cooked with robotics.
Harry Norman, Owner and Managing Director explains “We’re looking for the best engineers to deliver flexible automated food manufacturing. The pressures on the industry are driving change and at OAL you can lead the change.”
How big is the trend to automate? When you look at what the heads of food businesses are saying, there is a degree of inevitability about automation. In response to the global skills challenges workers face, Doug McMillon, CEO of Walmart, describes the challenge as such:
“The world is not going to stop automating, so we have to upgrade our jobs and train people to be able to do them. Because if you have a job you have everything. You have an opportunity to own a home, to make sure your kids get educated. All these things are related to each other.”
If you’re an engineer interested in a career in automation and robotics, you can find all the current vacancies at OAL here.
Telephone: +44 (0) 1733 394 700
OAL Contact Information:
Innovation and Marketing Manager – OAL Group
Phone: 01733 394700
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