Food and Farming: Employment Opportunities — [Mr Charles Walker in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:04 pm on 25th April 2017.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of George Eustice George Eustice The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs 3:04 pm, 25th April 2017

And, let us not forget, Yorkshire. The sector is a particularly significant employer in Cornwall; indeed, I have a number of important food manufacturing businesses in clotted cream and fisheries in my own constituency. Farming alone employs about 64,000 people in the south-west, and the Food From Cornwall website lists more than 330 businesses producing quality Cornish food and drink. Cornwall is, of course, famous for Cornish clotted cream and Cornish pasties, but also for Cornish sardines, or pilchards, and Fal oysters.

Sardines and oysters lead me on to another sector that is important in parts of Cornwall, including, of course, in Newlyn in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for St Ives. The UK seafood industry offers a wide variety of careers, including in fishing, aquaculture, processing, retail and food service. There can be no doubt, therefore, that across the food, farming and fisheries sector there are fantastic opportunities for our young people to build exciting, challenging and successful careers.

I want to talk a little about the industrial strategy and the post-16 skills plan. To secure the skilled workforce that the food, farming and fisheries sector needs for the future, Government and industry must work in partnership to prioritise training and skills. It is crucial that there are clear entry routes into the sector to help young people embark on their careers, and that employers invest in recruiting, training and developing their staff. The Government have introduced a number of policies on skills. The industrial strategy Green Paper, published in January this year, includes skills as one of its core pillars and has a particular focus on STEM. The post-16 skills plan, published in July 2016, aims to reform technical education by introducing 15 routes, or T-levels. These will include agriculture, environmental and animal care; engineering and manufacturing, which will include food manufacturing; and catering and hospitality. T-levels will provide technical education to equip students for skilled occupations, creating clear routes into the sector.

Reforms to apprenticeships will create fresh opportunities for people to develop new skills and progress their careers. The apprenticeship levy, which came into force this month, provides a new incentive for employers to invest in training. Many employers in the sector are rising to the challenge, and the number of apprenticeship starts in agriculture, horticulture and food manufacturing increased by more than 20% in 2015-16 compared with the previous year.

The Department for Education is exploring options to allow up to 10% of apprenticeship funds to be transferred down the supply chain from 2018, bringing the benefits of apprenticeships to even more businesses. We were keen to promote that idea in DEFRA because it means small farm enterprises within a supply chain could find it easier to benefit from the apprenticeship levy.

Apprenticeships provide great opportunities both to train new entrants and to upskill and develop existing members of staff. I am delighted that exciting new apprenticeship standards for butcher, advanced dairy technician, and food and drink maintenance engineer, have now been approved for delivery. Many more are currently in development.