Neal Collishaw is Operations Director at Worldwide Fruit in Spalding and an advocate for employing fresh young talent in the company. Neal worked his own way up through the company and has a great story to share with students about the food industry and the opportunities it brings. Neal is also a member of the Greater Lincolnshire LEP’s Food Board and instrumental in a joint project with industry, the Port of Boston and Boston Borough Council, to seize new post-Brexit trade opportunities with an ambitious plan to make the Boston one of Britain's major food ports. We invited Neal to share his positivity and love of the sector (and avocados!) with us in his blog here.

The events over recent months enabled us to showcase our industry to students who were looking to fill their spare time with the closure of colleges and schools, and to align with the Student Land Army Campaign run by the Greater Lincolnshire LEP last summer. This attracted a total of 40 students who worked throughout all areas of our business. They brought with them great value and dispelled some myths around young people and work ethics - in fact they were great! 

Since then many have returned to finish their education but we have 11 of them still with us, now permanently embedded within the business, all with PDP plans in place for further learning through apprenticeships delivered by the University of Lincoln Holbeach Campus, and Boston College. They really have brought great value to our business and a youthful and fresh eye and mindset to problem solving and innovation with technology which has genuinely improved our planning and operations.

For several years now we have invested time and resource into supporting and developing relationships with local schools, colleges and universities to help develop the strategy for our current and future recruitment needs. Having worked my way up through the company myself, I also have a great story to share, and hopefully I can inspire students to see the incredible growth and opportunities the food industry has to offer.

Like many value-added food supply chains, we have historically relied on a minimum wage workforce for many years, but that landscape is now changing and businesses needs to flex in tune with that. Industry 4.0 smart factory thinking around tech will play a significant part in delivering that agility and robustness across the Lincolnshire food sector and we in turn need to support the skills to enable that transition. With the development of the local Food Enterprise Zone on our doorstep, and the fantastic new facility at Holbeach (the Lincolnshire Institute of Agri-Tech), we are perfectly placed to deliver this challenge both in tech and skills.

The food sector will continue to face the challenge of reducing its overheads and costs.  Growers will face challenges as the Government restructures the area payment system to an environment-based system, and packers and processors face a significant labour and skills challenge as the pace of change increases. However, we are a hugely resilient and resourceful industry and these challenges are being tackled head on.

The pandemic shifted consumer purchasing and our markets have changed, with extra capacity for online demand dramatically increased, but we are now addressing how this will be delivered into the future. Will pick-from-store models (devised during the pandemic) grow, or will we see capacity unlocked from dark stores? We have also seen a shift towards more heavily packaged goods during Covid, slowing down the environmental drive to reduce food packaging; however I believe this a temporary blip and we need to be prepared for the bounce back at a pace and drive to reach carbon neutral targets even more quickly.

I am genuinely excited when I look forwards. The challenges of attracting new young talent into the industry to enable and unlock the technology which we will be introducing to address the changes in labour requirements and to develop new and environmentally challenging packaging initiatives will shape our industry and Greater Lincolnshire’s future. New businesses will emerge harnessing local talent and creating innovative products and solutions as this journey unfolds.

The Greater Lincolnshire LEP is developing plans in a powerful collaboration with the food industry to create a globally important UK Food Valley to promote us as the UK capital for food, attract investment, collaborate on innovation and automation and offer green, sustainable, healthy growth.

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