Food & drink Career Pathways For School Leavers
Think about the last fizzy drink that you drank. How about the jar of sauce you used to go with your pasta dish? What about your go-to condiments that you use for every occasion? Consider how they tasted, how the packaging felt and what they looked like. Every part of these products will have been carefully put together by a string of professionals in the food and drinks industry. From the recipe and seasonings to the size and shape of the packaging, a lot of thought went into that end result that you’re consuming!
The broad industry stretches over everything from food science and product manufacturing to marketing, sales and HR. Therefore, there is a lot of opportunities to find a job in an area that interests you most.
Below are a few examples of areas in the industry that are worth exploring:
- Food tasting
- Food science
- Quality control
The skills required for a job within the industry will depend on which specific career path you’re interested in pursuing. Some skills required might be more technical, and will likely to be obtained during work experience, University or an apprenticeship.
It’s worth prepping yourself, however, with some of the below soft skills which will benefit anyone looking to get into the industry:
- Commercial Awareness
- Time Management
96% of businesses in the food and drink sector are small or medium-sized businesses, so there’s a lot of opportunity for ambitious school leavers outside of the most recognised food brands. If you’re applying for an apprenticeship, a development plan will be set out for you clearly. You’ll be able to lean on your educator as well as mentors within the business.
If you’ve already completed an apprenticeship in the food & drinks industry, you could consider increasing your employability standing by going to university. This could be something to consider if you want to work in the more scientific or management-oriented sides of the industry.
Training will differ across job roles - for example, HR professionals are frequently required to take coaching or legal courses as they progress. Most often, this type of training will be paid for by an employer. It might be worth investigating what training will be required for the specific career paths that interest you most. This will also shine some light on the roles that you can progress to.
Most often, you will begin with quite a modest wage (even after you’ve completed your apprenticeship). However, your salary will increase as you gain extra responsibly and have time to prove your capability.
Legally, apprentices must be paid at least £3.70 per hour under the age of 19 (which is the National Minimum Wage.) Those who are older than 19 can earn around £150-£240 per week doing an apprenticeship. Employers are entitled to pay an apprenticeship more if they see fit!
According to The Grover, Average salaries for certain roles within the sector are as follows:
Buyer - £25,000
Food sales executive - £28,000
Food manufacturing analyst - £30,000
Project manager - £34,000
Business development manager - £30,000 - £35,000
Brand manager - £35,000 - £45,000
Supply chain and operations manager - £40,000 - £44,000
Production manager - £40,000 - £60,000
Qualification requirements & subjects to study
For roles in food science, GCSEs and/or A-levels in subjects such as chemistry, biology or nutrition would be fitting, whereas office-based roles will benefit from a background in business, management or humanities.
To get a job in the food and drink sector as a school leaver, it’s a good idea to undertake a vocational qualification. A diploma, certificate or short course can give you the practical skills boost you need to get a job in this sector. Professional organisations, as well as colleges, can provide or advise you on these qualifications.
Alternatively, you could look at apprenticeships in food and drink. Apprenticeships involve you studying at college and working for a company at the same time. Don’t panic about trying to juggle it all at once - normally you’ll be allocated time for both.
The benefits of doing an apprenticeship are that you can continue your education, normally specialising in a specific profession, while working alongside experienced staff in a company. You’ll be paid a wage for the work you carry out (outlined above). This is a great alternative for school leavers who aren’t interested in going to University but feel ready to get stuck straight into a job. You'll also have a lot more experience than University leavers by the time they’re finished!